Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake
Roger 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.
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – If the quorum required for the upcoming Iraqi Parliament session to elect the country’s next president isn’t met, then it will be the “end” of the legislative house, Muqtada Al-Sadr, the biggest winner of Iraq’s October elections, warned in a tweet early Friday.
The populist Shiite politician’s remark came amid warnings that if lawmakers fail to elect a president within six months of the October elections, parliament will be dissolved, and a call for new elections will be made. The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court (FSC) recently ruled on this procedure.
Sadr called on independent lawmakers to attend Saturday’s session to break the political deadlock over government formation. He said he expects a “dignified” stance from the MPs that do not have their own political parties and warned if the session is not held on Saturday due to lack of quorum, it is the “end” of parliament.
He added that it is “shameful to leave Iraq and its people with no government.”
Sadr’s movement, along with the Sunnis Siyada (Sovereignty) Alliance and the KDP, recently formed a tripartite coalition called “Saving the Homeland”.
The tripartite alliance has nearly 170 seats in the parliament while their rivals, the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), have approximately 130. The SCF, which opposes the tripartite’s goal of forming a majority government, also supports the PUK’s Salih for another term as president.
Boeing aircraft can fly non-stop for six days with equipment designed to withstand electromagnetic blast
An aircraft known as the “Doomsday Plane” that is capable of enduring the aftermath of a nuclear detonation has landed in Britain.
The arrival of the US Nightwatch plane from Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, comes amid fears of a nuclear strike by Russia, with its invasion of Ukraine stalled.
The aircraft, call sign GRIM99, is described as the Flying Pentagon and could be used as a centre of operations during a nuclear war.
Capable of flying 150 hours non-stop with the aid of airborne refuelling, the Boeing 747 is officially known as the National Emergency Airborne Operations Centre and is one of four such planes on constant standby.
The plane’s flight deck equipment is analogue, so it can withstand jamming or the electromagnetic pulse that follows a nuclear detonation.
The “radome” hump on its back contains 67 different satellite dishes and antennae, giving the defence secretary and his commanders the ability to contact warships, submarines, aircraft and landlines around the world.
A crew of 112 people has the use of three decks, with 18 bunks beds, six bathrooms, a kitchen, conference room, briefing room and an operations centre.
The interior design is basic, with few modern-day comforts and no touch screens, as digital technology would be almost completely disabled during a nuclear exchange. However, the conference centre does have two 80-inch flat screen televisions.
It has a maximum speed of 969kph, can fly at 14,000 metres and has a take-off load of 377,000kg. The aircraft will remain in service until 2039.
More notably, Iran cannot and will not give up on a national project it has so heavily invested in over many decades and paid for in treasure and in blood. It is an issue of self-esteem, statecraft, ideology, and threat perception. Even with the best of intentions and the strictest of commitments, the old nuclear deal cannot be sustainably revived; it will be unstable. Whether an agreement is signed in Vienna or not is of little consequence.
Reaching arrangements on nuclear technicalities is important, but it will be incomplete if not anchored in a pertinent political setting. The conflict is not technical; it is political. Miss the politics and the technical arrangements wobble; address the politics and the other details will follow. The rot started to set in long before Trump’s withdrawal; the political climate shifted when Iran did not feel that sanctions were truly lifted and the United States became increasingly frustrated with Iran’s regional behavior and its missile program. Neither side had to withdraw for the spirit of the deal to eventually fizzle out.
At present, the United States does not have an overarching, coherent policy on Iran; it proceeds piecemeal without a political foundation. “Putting Iran back in the box” is unachievable; it will not begin to solve the problems that a nuclear Iran exemplifies.
When an agreement on the nuclear deal is reached, a likely possibility, it will be an absolute win for the Iranians, not different from the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan and a triumph for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Americans long believed that the struggle for power in Iran was between extremists and moderates, or between fundamentalists and reformists.
That is simplistic; the real, often inaudible, struggle has been between the IRGC and the official state and its military. The military defends the state; the IRGC defends the revolution. The tension between them is palpable. It’s not unlike the strain between Joseph Stalin’s “socialism in one country” and Leon Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” in the Soviet Union.
A deal for Iran is not the endgame but a station on a long journey of confronting its enemies and buttressing its power.
The 2015 deal was between the world powers and the Iranian state represented by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The IRGC was not properly present in those talks. It did not like the deal. Sometimes its criticism was vocal and loud; other times it was guileful and insidious. It had to go along with the deal, because that was the wish of the supreme leader, who did not take a strong position for or against but allowed the deal to go through, waiting for it to collapse. Surreptitiously, and sometimes overtly, he was on the side of the IRGC.
With the Vienna process, the Iranian domestic balance of power was beginning to shift, intensified by displeasure with the flimsy economic returns of the original deal, U.S. withdrawal from it, Israeli attacks on nuclear sites and scientists, and the expansion of the IRGC’s reach in the region. The IRGC had always had its eye on fully taking over the nuclear file from the state; Vienna provided the opportunity and the push, and the U.S. administration has been an unwitting partner in that effort.Read MoreA New Iran Deal Means Old ChaosRussia’s ‘Eleventh-Hour’ Interference in the Iran Deal
The United States has unknowingly helped the IRGC prevail. U.S. faltering on reversing Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and stuttering on lifting the sanctions catapulted the IRGC into a central position. Contemplating removing the group’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization is not a last-minute afterthought; it is a natural progression of the Vienna talks. Iran was allowed, with little U.S. resistance, to determine the form, structure, agenda, calendar, pace, and the level of participants in the talks to suit its goals—an incredible feat.
The United States started on the wrong foot. It showered the Iranians with gratifying gifts: removing the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen from the State Department terrorist list, pressuring the Saudis to unilaterally end the war there, reassessing U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, quietly rolling back support for the Abraham Accords by downgrading them and reverting to the old much-tried and tired discourse on Arab-Israeli peace, lifting a handful of sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector as evidence of Washington’s good faith approach, withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq, and withdrawing shambolically from Afghanistan.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan was a pivotal moment. It demonstrated to Iran that the United States will leave under pressure, is ultimately helpless in an asymmetrical war, is incompetent in its flight, does not rescue even its closest cohorts, would leave the field to its declared enemies, and could be desperate enough to rely on tiny Qatar to bail it out and represent it with the Taliban, whom the United States has fought for 20 years. It is naive to believe that all of these factors were not noticed by the Iranians and have not played a central role in shaping their approach to talks in Vienna.
The new powers in Iran wanted, just like the Taliban in their negotiations with the United States in Qatar, two things: time and a shielding diplomatic cover. Just like the Taliban, they got them. The IRGC got valuable time from the United States in return for just turning up in Vienna. The Taliban used time to prepare to capture Kabul under the protection of diplomatic negotiations that ended U.S. military attacks. In Vienna, the IRGC employed time to charge forward in the nuclear file and harass U.S. presence in the region by attacking U.S. targets in both Iraq and Syria under the cover of talks that bestowed protection from U.S. military strikes and a ceiling to Israeli military attacks.
The U.S. administration refuses to acknowledge that it has been taken for a ride and persists in advancing brighter narratives.
Iran did not even have to negotiate directly with U.S. officials. What the United States got in return is not evident. Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban, and the Iranian nuclear project had its most remarkable growth and is now largely under the patronage of the IRGC. The U.S. administration refuses to acknowledge that it has been taken for a ride and persists in advancing brighter narratives.
Tehran has a clear, comprehensive, and consistent strategy. From early on, it said it was not interested in negotiations; the United States unilaterally left the 2015 nuclear deal, and it has now to return and lift sanctions. It is unclear what the American strategy is. Stressing the primacy of “diplomacy,” inserting the Europeans in the talks when Washington constantly called for direct engagement with the Iranians, waving vague “deadlines,” and threatening “other” or “all” options, in case the talks fail, does not make a strategy. There is no more talk of a “longer, stronger, broader” deal, of Iran’s missile program or its regional activities.
Iran had the backing of Russia and China, both of which pretended to be impartial parties in step with the Europeans but were, in fact, developing a ubiquitous strategic alliance with Iran that goes beyond the nuclear issue. They exuded optimism and bonhomie that kept discussions going, which was what Iran wanted. The Americans believed that Russia and China were as concerned with Iran going nuclear as themselves; that is not the case. They may not be much pleased with a nuclear Iran, but their geostrategic priorities lie elsewhere—in their faceoff with the United States.
They want a seat at the table, but their calculations have to do with other issues. The United States did not make best use of the historical mistrust between Persians and Russians that goes back centuries; it actually made their reconciliation easier by being oblivious to the new emerging ties between the two countries. Iran is scrambling to take advantage of the Ukraine crisis to further its own interests, such as selling its much-yearned-for oil at current high prices, and Russia is less forthcoming in its support of the West now, as shown by the apparent stalling tactic of linking the deal to sanctions on Russia.
Having made the most out of and exhausted the talks, Iran is ready to move to the next stage of its strategy and sign a deal that allows it to continue with its plans under new boundaries and with plenty of opportunities.
A deal for Iran is not the endgame but a station on a long journey of confronting its enemies and buttressing its power. It is not important by itself. The nuclear deal is of lesser concern than other factors—the survival and security of the regime and the capacity to project regional leadership, ascendancy, and supremacy. Kicking out U.S. forces from the Middle East and restricting U.S. reach feature prominently in Iranian plans.
Iran is also building and supporting parallel institutions across the region to compete with traditional state structures inherited from the West. Where this vision will end is not entirely clear; it is a work in progress. The IRGC in Iran, the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, various militias in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, the Houthis in Yemen, and others elsewhere—these are parts of the same project and are integral to IRGC strategy. They are obliquely present in Vienna.
There are two insurmountable black holes in the American approach to Iran’s nuclear issue: If Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the Iran deal was “catastrophic,” as his successor Joe Biden’s team keeps on reminding us, then why didn’t the new administration unilaterally and immediately stop and reverse what it views as a calamitous policy?
Surely, a catastrophe should not be allowed even one extra day with or without negotiations. The Americans were concerned about appearing weak, but do U.S. concessions at the start of talks project more American weakness than added concessions down the line? A little more time under sanctions may have, in fact, suited Iran’s plans.
Iran has often calculated that the daily benefit in advancing its nuclear program outweighs the daily suffering from sanctions.
Iran has often calculated that the daily benefit in advancing its nuclear program outweighs the daily suffering from sanctions. Paradoxically, the early lifting of sanctions might have provided the leverage that the sanctions themselves have clearly failed to do, as Iran was openly committed to abiding by the 2015 deal. If the United States had moved quickly to rejoin the deal and lift sanctions, Iran would have had to rapidly acquiesce and comply. The balance of power would have still favored the state, away from the IRGC, for which reviving the old deal was not the highest priority.
The Biden administration appeared to be suggesting that Trump’s withdrawal strategy was fine until negotiations were concluded; it did not seem to have a better alternative to replace it with. Trump consistently argued that withdrawing from the deal and imposing further sanctions were a path to talks.
The much-maligned Trump policy is exactly what Biden’s people have championed: sanctions until Iran comes to the table and negotiates a new deal. It is absurd that what the U.S. administration considers to be its most commanding leverage with Iran (sanctions) is at the same time a crucial component of what the administration itself considers to be a defective and dangerous procedure that achieved the opposite of what it intended and is responsible for Iran’s nuclear advances.
Some in Washington probably thought, “What’s the hurry? Let’s leave the Iranians to stew more under sanctions.” That was a mistake. Iran was hurting and openly admitted that, but it was not stewing. Washington forgot that the mullahs have been under sanctions for more than 40 years but have hardly changed their political comportment. There were no indications that further pressure would produce the desired results.
Recent film footage from Tehran does not display misery and desolation; it certainly confirms more prosperity than, say, Baghdad or Cairo. Meanwhile, suffering is celebrated and is of an exalted value in Shiite Islam, not dissimilar to Christ on the cross for some Christians—this is not well understood by those calling for more or longer sanctions.
Lifting U.S. sanctions is important for Iran, but it’s not the most urgent task, except for a thin wedge within the ruling elite. When Tehran engaged in Vienna, it had a complex scale of interests and practices that determined its conduct. The United States had a simpler goal: stopping Iran from acquiring a bomb, which is most of what the talks were about. Tehran’s nefarious conduct in the region and its ballistic missile program could be discussed at a later date.
The other black hole is the Iranian demand for “guarantees” that a nuclear deal will not suffer a Trump-type cancellation. In the Middle East, it is ordinarily seen as peculiar that a democracy such as the United States can reverse public pledges through sheer personal whims. That type of conduct is more associated with despots and dictators.
The agreements that are reached with America are presumed to be institutional, not personal. The “no guarantees” school would have validated and legitimized the repeal of past commitments and rendered future undertakings meaningless and governed by private impulses. It would have allowed a future Arab leader, under various pretexts, to decide to withdraw from peace treaties with Israel, irrespective of legal niceties.
For the Iranians, the absence of guarantees echoes that a nuclear agreement signed with the United States does not have sufficient American political backing for it to be enduring, hence Iran has to tread carefully and be extra cautious in giving up material assets as it tests the fortitude of U.S. compliance to a deal, which could undermine the agreement.
If the United States is unable to give guarantees, then without question, Iran will not be expected to give them as well.
Perhaps the most severe hazard of not allowing Iran the assurances it seeks lies in a different place. If the United States is unable to give guarantees, then without question, Iran will not be expected to give them as well. This means that if circumstances arise when Iran feels the need and can swiftly acquire the capability to go fully nuclear, it can do so without technically rescinding its obligation to the new nuclear agreement, as it includes no guarantees of nonwithdrawal.
Iran could withdraw without breaking the agreement—a ludicrous outcome. Iran would not leave abruptly à la Trump; it would creep toward the exit with minimum clatter. A no-guarantee clause; the precedence of Trump’s withdrawal; interpretations of texts; accusations of noncompliance; the expertise to neutralize future sanctions; the deepening of ties with Russia, China, and regional parties; and possible Israeli attacks that Iran will claim are U.S.-approved may all contribute to the justification of Iranian withdrawal from the agreement.
If estimates of Iranian progress in their nuclear project are true, the West might not have the necessary time or motivation to gather its wits and resources to confront such a prospect. Further talks may frustrate, and other options could turn obsolete. In essence, the nuclear agreement will unravel, permitting Iran additional time and cover to pursue its goals.
Agreements work when the politics in which they are embedded is right; that was what happened in 2015, despite the fragility of the milieu. The Oslo Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians, though dissimilar in nature, is a vivid example. They were signed 30 years ago, were supposed to conclude in five years, functioned for three years, and, when the politics changed, went into deep freeze, never reaching their final destination without any party formally withdrawing from them.
As the Oslo Accords clearly reveal, accepting an agreement and not repealing it does not guarantee that it will be implemented. A deal in Vienna may suffer the same fate if the politics is left to fester.
The Iranian nuclear program was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States. Western cooperation ceased only following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. When Iran, irrespective of what regime is in power, looks around and sees itself fenced in by a nuclear Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel—and further afield the United States, the United Kingdom, France and North Korea—it wonders why it has been left out.
As a proud nation and an ancient civilization, Iran feels a profound cultural imperative not to be excluded from the nuclear club. The problem for the region and the world may not be a nuclear Iran but its behavior, which, puzzlingly, is not subject to the agreement.
Indeed, there will always be historical trajectories invigorated by profound psychological narratives and intense collective self-awareness that cannot be reversed through violence or diplomacy—only delayed.
If a deal is finally sealed at long last, U.S. and Iranian officials are likely to leave the talks in the same emotional state—buoyed by disparate cultural references.
After the Iranians sign an agreement in Vienna, what may echo in their minds on the flight home to Tehran is a well-known Islamic teaching attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, loosely translated as: “a believer should not be stung two times in the same spot.” And, as they exhale a sigh of relief on their way back to Washington from the Austrian capital, the Americans may be humming along with the singer Kelis: “You might trick me once; I won’t let you trick me twice.”
In Beirut, Lebanon, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PJI) and Hamas officials met to discuss how the groups should engage and increase their actions against Israel.
The meeting comes as several of their followers died in clashes with Israeli Defense Force troops in the West Bank’s Nabulus last Monday, as Palestinians were rioting against Jewish worshipers near Joseph’s Tomb.
While it is customary for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to call for increased attacks against Israel when one of their followers dies trying to attack Israelis, the meeting revealed short- and long-term goals to terrorize and harm Israel and Israeli citizens.
One of the issues that officials of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PJI) discussed was that Jewish worshipers were planning on “rallying” in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the upcoming Jewish holidays such as Passover and others.
Should that happen, the officials called on Islamic worshipers to converge on the Temple Mount and prevent Jews from attending the site, stating that it would trigger a “religious conflict” or jihad.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad followers have used the al-Aqsa Mosque to store rocks and other weaponry against Israelis trying to visit the holy site.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad also called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank to halt any cooperation with Israeli security forces.
The two groups also discussed taking action against what they call ‘Israeli escalation of Palestinian land’, and the alleging that ‘occupied Israeli officials’ are ‘Judaizing’ Jerusalem while displacing Palestinians.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials also addressed what they describe as the ‘siege’ of the Gaza Strip and the ‘abuse’ of terrorist prisoners and detainees.
Both factions have continuously pushed for more militant actions against the Israeli government, suggesting tactics such as suicide bombings, launching and storing missiles and weaponry in civilian places.
According to Joe Truzman, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), argues that “the U.S. and Israel should continue to treat both groups as terrorist organizations and highlight their continued threats including the support they receive from Tehran.”
“Hamas, PIJ, and other Palestinian terror organizations have been building a narrative of being the defenders of the Palestinian people, including Arab Israelis to gain popularity in the West Bank over the Palestinian Authority,” Truman stated. He further explains that the May 2021conflict where Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem in the name of defending Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and those fighting with IDF forces near al-Aqsa Mosque and inside of it was “an excuse to further its interests among the Palestinian and Arab population at home and abroad.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad urged followers to take up arms and unite under one banner to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque and liberate Palestinians from the Israeli occupation.
Arab leaders who have expressed sympathy with the Palestinians have been hesitant to support Hamas and Islamic Jihad because of their close ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran and fear of being overthrown by their radical leadership.
While Arab countries are distancing and condemning the actions of these two terrorist groups, radical Islamic governments like Iran have stood side by side with both groups and continue to fund their activities both economically and militarily.
When asked if the calls from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to increase attacks against Israel revolves around the future Iran nuclear deal, Truzman emphasized that the financial rewards Tehran will receive from the agreement will “likely be used to further arm its proxies and Palestinian terrorist organizations in Gaza.”
Joe Truzman, like many other analysts, believes that “the deal emboldens Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other organizations who benefit from Iranian assistance to continue threatening Israel knowing that support for their cause will likely increase after a deal is reached.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have condemned countries such as Morocco, Bahrain, Egypt, and others for normalizing ties with Israel, accusing them of traitors and sellouts against the Palestinian people.
According to Truzman, Hamas feels it faces isolation because of the “recent thawing of relations between Israel and one of Hamas’ main backers, Turkey.”
Earlier this month, South Korean voters narrowly elected a hawkish conservative, Yoon Suk-yeol, to replace outgoing progressive President Moon Jae-in. Yoon promised to take a tougher position toward the North, which likely will turn the bilateral relationship actively hostile.
Kim appears to lack interest in engaging with the U.S. After his February 2019 summit with President Donald Trump collapsed, Kim largely ended contact with Washington, ignoring multiple offers from the Biden administration to talk.
In the past, Kim used missile tests to push Washington to negotiate and make concessions. Before returning to diplomacy, he may have decided to bolster his arsenal. At various party gatherings and military parades, Kim has presented lengthy weapons wish lists. Despite his country’s evident economic weakness, Kim’s government has made significant progress on several new weapons systems. The Rand Corporation and Asan Institute provide this ominous assessment:
[B]y 2027, North Korea could have 200 nuclear weapons and several dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and hundreds of theater missiles for delivering the nuclear weapons. The ROK and the United States are not prepared, and do not plan to be prepared, to deal with the coercive and warfighting leverage that these weapons would give North Korea.
In that case, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would possess an arsenal comparable to those of the world’s second-tier nuclear powers. That would give Kim room to move, offering some weapons in exchange for sanctions relief while retaining enough nukes to deter a U.S. attack. Imagine if the DPRK had 100 weapons and missiles capable of targeting the American homeland. Any U.S. president would hesitate to intervene even in a conventional war on the Korean Peninsula, since North Korea could threaten to shoot unless Washington backed down.
South Koreans have grown more uncomfortable as Pyongyang has developed its nuclear-weapon and missile capacities, though the South Koreans might intuitively understand the limits of extended deterrence. In any case, people in South Korean increasingly want the ability to protect themselves without having to rely on a sometimes-mercurial and even feckless Uncle Sam. After all, if pressed to risk Los Angeles for Seoul, most Americas would naturally say, “No thanks.”
Last month, the Chicago Council for Global Affairs published a detailed study of South Korean support for nuclear armament, finding 71 percent of surveyed South Koreans wanted the country to possess its own nuclear deterrent. The Chicago Council found that “When asked to choose between the two, the public overwhelmingly prefers a domestic weapons program to deployment of [U.S.] nuclear weapons,” adding that “support for both options appears to be insensitive to potential negative repercussions for South Korea’s relations with China, South Korea’s economic security, the alliance with the United States, or hopes for North Korea’s denuclearization.”
The Council found that South Koreans want the bomb even though they believe the U.S. would still protect the South in the event of war, noting that “Confidence that the United States will carry through on alliance commitments is positively associated with support for nuclear weapons, contrary to beliefs that alliance commitment concerns are a main driver of public views on nuclear acquisition.”
Notably, respondents had an overwhelming preference (67 percent to 9 percent) for the South’s own nukes over a return of American tactical nuclear weapons. President-elect Yoon favors the latter. However, so-called extended deterrence is becoming untenable. When the DPRK was only a conventional power, it posed a military threat to the Republic of Korea alone. Extended deterrence was a freebie, allowing Washington to threaten the use of nukes in even a conventional contest. The North’s main deterrent at the time was its conventional threat, especially with artillery and missiles, against the Seoul metropolitan area.
However, as Pyongyang has acquired nuclear weapons and developed ICBMs, the U.S. faces a future in which the DPRK could strike back against the American homeland. Although Washington retains overwhelming military and nuclear strength, North Korea will eventually be able to target U.S. possessions and military bases in the Asia-Pacific, Hawaii, and several mainland cities.
The ROK is a good friend, but the relationship is not worth bringing mass destruction and death to America. The U.S. might even have to reconsider the alliance if Washington were to intervene in a conventional fight on the peninsula that it could not afford to win, lest North Korea use its arsenal, or threaten to do so. Although Kim Jong-un has given no indication that he wants to leave this world atop a radioactive funeral pyre in Pyongyang, he might prefer that to more mundane defeat.
Of course, Washington’s attitude would be critical if Seoul decided to take the nuclear path. In the 1970s, President Park Chung-hee cancelled the ROK’s nuclear program when confronted by the Nixon administration. Having since failed to stop the North’s progress, the U.S. would have little credibility today were it to inveigh against a similar South Korean effort. Washington will likely be reluctant to sanction one of its closest military allies, which it views as playing an important role in constraining China.
Indeed, Beijing’s growing strength suggests Washington should rethink its stance on nuclear proliferation. America’s unusual dominance upon exiting World War II allowed it to play global policeman, at least in regions it cared about. However, that moment is gone. In an increasingly multi-polar world in which the U.S. faces grave economic and military challenges, it cannot afford to continue providing nuclear guarantees to all of its allies.
Moreover, America’s current weapons policy is a bit like domestic gun-control policies—it is most effective in denying weapons to friendly, responsible parties. In the case of nuclear weapons, that means America keeps nukes from democratic, allied states even as bad regimes arm themselves. Forget Iran: Pakistan already has put nukes in the hands of a dangerously unstable state beset by Islamist extremists. India, with its increasingly authoritarian Hindu-nationalist regime, has created a countervailing force. North Korea, too, is a growing nuclear state, despite Washington’s refusal to acknowledge the obvious.
Even before the Russian attack on Ukraine, both Japan and South Korea were increasing military outlays. Given both nations’ concerns about China and DPRK, they should be doing even more than they are. However, the most important constraint on Chinese adventurism would be allowing Tokyo and Seoul to possess small but survivable deterrents.
To be sure, there are downsides to nuclear proliferation. However, Ukrainians noted that if they had used leftover Soviet weapons for their own nuclear program, Moscow would not have invaded. Rather than putting America’s homeland on the line for countries with whom we are friendly but are not vital for U.S. security, allowing them to acquire nuclear weapons would provide them a direct means of defense.
If North Korea forges ahead to create a sizable nuclear arsenal, Washington will have to decide whether it is willing to risk national destruction to continue protecting the ROK. If not, then Washington should contemplate the currently unthinkable—a South Korean nuclear weapon. The South Korean people appear ready to shoulder that responsibility. How would U.S. policymakers respond?
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of several books, including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.
Western countries quickly condemned the move, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling it “provocative” and “the height of irresponsibility.”
Most Western analysts believe the rhetoric was designed to deter the United States and its allies from increasing their support for Ukraine beyond existing economic sanctions and weapons supplies.
“Not only is this meant to instill fear in the whole world; it’s also meant to scare anyone from helping in Ukraine,” Beatrice Fihn, who leads the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told AFP.
These weapons come in various sizes, and their impact depends on whether they explode at ground level or above the Earth’s surface.
US President Joe Biden also claimed this week that Moscow was considering the use of chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine.
“Chemical weapons would not change the course of the war. A tactical nuclear weapon that reduces a Ukrainian city to rubble? Yes,” Mathieu Boulegue, an analyst at the London-based Chatham House, told AFP.
He pointed instead to Russia’s nuclear doctrine published in 2020, in which “you can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used.”
“If it is as an existential threat for our country, then it can be used in accordance with our concept,” Peskov said.
Recent claims from the Kremlin about Ukraine developing chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons — dismissed as disinformation by Western officials — are a cause for concern.
“The use of a weapon of mass destruction against Russia would be a doctrinal justification for responding with a nuclear weapon,” said Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, an expert on Russia’s nuclear doctrine at the University of Oslo.
Is this just alarmism?
Possibly. William Alberque, an expert on arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British think-tank, told AFP that he doubted Putin would deploy tactical nuclear arms.
“The political cost of the use of nuclear weapons would be outrageous. He would lose the little support he still has. Indians would have to pull out. The Chinese as well,” he said.
Ven Bruusgaard suggested that Putin’s concern about his own place in history might deter him.
He would also need approval to launch one from either Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu or Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
“The military repercussions would be unpredictable to say the least and potentially extremely dangerous for Russia,” she said, since NATO or the United States might feel obliged to enter the conflict directly.
“That’s the exact scenario that Russia is trying to avoid,” she said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)