as regions near plate boundaries, large and damaging earthquakes do occur there. Furthermore, when these rare eastern U.S. earthquakes occur, the areas affected by them are much larger than for western U.S. earthquakes of the same magnitude.
Seismicity in the vicinity of New York City. Data are from the U.S. Geological Survey (Top, USGS) and the National Earthquake Information Center (Bottom, NEIC). In the top figure, closed red circles indicate 1924-2006 epicenters and open black circles indicate locations of the larger earthquakes that occurred in 1737, 1783 and 1884. Green lines indicate the trace of the Ramapo fault.
As can be seen in the maps of earthquake activity in this region(shown in the figure),
The NYC area is part of the geologically complex structure of the Northern
Appalachian Mountains. This complex structure was formed during the past half billion years when the Earth’s crust underlying the Northern Appalachians was the site of two major geological episodes, each of which has left its imprint on the NYC area bedrock.
A magnitude 4.0 eastern U.S. earthquake typically can be felt as far as 100 km (60 mi) from its
epicenter, but it infrequently causes damage near its source. A magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake, although uncommon, can be felt as far as 500 km (300 mi) from its epicenter, and can cause damage as far away as 40 km (25 mi) from its epicenter. Earthquakes stronger than about magnitude 5.0 generate ground motions that are strong enough to be damaging in the epicentral area.
system in California, scientists can often make observations that allow them to identify the specific fault on which an earthquake took place. In contrast, east of the Rocky Mountains this is rarely the case.
The NYC area is far from the boundaries of the North American plate, which are in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, in the Caribbean Sea, and along the west coast of North America. The seismicity of the northeastern U.S. is generally considered to be due to ancient zones of weakness that are being reactivated in the present-day stress field. In this model, pre-existing faults that were formed during ancient geological episodes persist in the intraplate crust, and the earthquakes occur when the present-day stress is released along these zones of weakness.
Earthquakes and geologically mapped faults in the Northeastern U.S.
The northeastern U.S. has many known faults, but virtually all of the known faults have not been active for perhaps 90 million years or more. Also, the locations of the known faults are not well determined at earthquake depths. Accordingly, few (if any) earthquakes in the region can be unambiguously linked to known faults.
and Piedmont areas to the east. This fault is perhaps the best known fault zone in the Mid-Atlantic region, and some small earthquakes have been known to occur in its vicinity. Recently, public knowledge about the fault has increased – especially after the 1970s, when the fault’s proximity to the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York was noticed.
There is insufficient evidence to unequivocally demonstrate any strong correlation of earthquakes in the New York City area with specific faults or other geologic structures in this region. The damaging earthquake affecting New York City in 1884 was probably not associated with the Ramapo fault because the strongest shaking from that earthquake occurred on Long Island (quite far from the trace of the Ramapo fault). The relationship between faults and earthquakes in the New York City area is currently understood to be more complex than any simple association of a specific earthquake with a specific mapped fault.
Consolidated Edison Company. The plant began operating in 1963, and it has been the subject of a controversy over concerns that an earthquake from the Ramapo fault will affect the power plant. Whether or not the Ramapo fault actually does pose a threat to this nuclear power plant remains an open question.
The US has not yet “shown the necessary will” to agree on renewing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said Monday.
“What has remained is more than one issue,” Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters at his weekly press briefing. “All components of maximum pressure need to be removed.”
US ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions have been in place since 2018, when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), prompting Tehran by 2019 to expand its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits.
A deal could have been concluded “months ago” had Tehran surrendered to US demands over its “red lines,” Khatibzadeh said. The spokesman reiterated that the “opportunity for dialogue” would not “remain open forever.”
The US and Iran reportedly disagree over whether reviving the JCPOA should see the US remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) from its list of ‘foreign terrorist organization,’ where Trump placed them in 2019. President Joe Biden’s administration, while committed to restoring the JCPOA, has apparently decided not delist the Guards, the only part of any state’s armed forces so designated, in the face of Congressional opposition to delisting from most Republicans and some Democrats.
The foreign ministry spokesman repeated Iran’s view that the sticking point in talks was the US and not the other world powers with whom Iran has for a year been discussing restoring the JCPOA – China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
Referring to criticism of lawmakers from the principlist Paydari group, who have claimed Iranian negotiators have made too many concessions in a draft agreement over JCPOA revival, Khatibzadeh said there was “no final text.”
“We have not yet reached the point where the American side demonstrates that it is fulfilling its obligations,” Khatibzadeh said, claiming the US wanted to maintain as many of its sanctions as possible. His comments came a day after Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Sunday the US had presented “new conditions” for removing ‘maximum pressure.’
Iranian media and politicians who support the JCPOA have criticized the government over the talks. In a commentary Monday, Jomhouri Eslami newspaper said it should not have claimed over recent months that talks were near agreement or that Iran’s current economic problems would be solved irrespective of sanctions. “What matters is delivering on these promises,” the conservative paper noted.
Jomhouri Eslami linked US sanctions to rising prices. “Seven months appears to be enough time for the new government to take control of the affairs of the country and stop prices from rising,” it opined. “But many commodities have risen by between 50 to 80 percent during this time and pressure on people has doubled.”
Jomhouri Eslami urged the government of President Ebrahim Raisi “to seek help from those who have successful experience in this matter,” presumably a reference to those who conducted earlier international talks under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani.
The leaders of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia — the three nations that form the AUKUS security grouping— have issued a joint statement recently on deepening their cooperation to include new technologies. The statement spoke of “new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen cooperation on defense innovation.”
AUKUS is an explicitly military pact announced in September 2021 aimed to counter China in the Asia-Pacific. It has been generally portrayed as an agreement to transfer highly sensitive nuclear submarine technology to Australia and equip Canberra with such craft. Since then, the submarine plans have made some progress, with the Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement signed by the three countries, which allows sharing of sensitive data. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also announced the earmarking of an additional base for nuclear submarines on the country’s east coast.
But AUKUS is as much, or even more, about other defense technologies such as cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum physics, and others to which hypersonics is just the latest addition. The likely reason for adding the latter is China’s own progress in this technology, with a recent test that was seen in the United States as a breakthrough. The United States is widely considered to be behind China and Russia in hypersonic technology. However, Washington is very much implicated in Chinese advances. The United States probably sparked China’s drive for hypersonics when it withdrew from the bedrock Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2001.
Last year, I wrote about the dangers and risks AUKUS presents to the stability and security of Asia. These include setting a poor precedent for curbing nuclear proliferation, problematic weaponization of norms and values claims, the perception of an Anglo-Saxon club in Asia, and risks of sparking a new arms race. Deterrence has a place in any U.S. approach toward China, but the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is heavy on deterrence and light on reassurance. The inclusion of hypersonics in AUKUS is simply another sign that we have entered a world of decreasing safeguards against chances of great power conflict with all its potential to go nuclear. Nuclear war, more than the rise of China, is a core and existential threat to the United States.
Moreover, most of the initiatives announced as a part of AUKUS, including the nuclear submarines provision, are slated to yield their deliverables over a long timescale of decades from now. However, the response from China and others may emerge much sooner. Unsurprisingly, Beijing has taken unkindly to the formation of the AUKUS bloc, and Southeast Asian reactions have been mixed, with Indonesia and Malaysia worried. Thoughtful Australian analysts have also expressed concerns. AUKUS therefore may well be frontloading its risks and backloading its supposed payoffs.
As soon as mid-to-late April, Iran is expected to reach a new dangerous, destabilizing threshold, having enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) to fashion a nuclear explosive, about 40-42 kilograms (kg) of 60 percent enriched uranium (uranium mass).1 With this quantity, an enrichment level of 60 percent suffices to create a relatively compact nuclear explosive; further enrichment to 80 or 90 percent is not needed. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 41.7 kg of 60 percent enriched uranium (uranium mass) is a significant quantity, which the IAEA defines as the “approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive cannot be excluded.”2
A common fallacy is Iran would require 90 percent HEU, more commonly called weapon-grade uranium, to build nuclear explosives. Although Iran’s nuclear weapons designs have focused on 90 percent HEU and likely prefer that enrichment, modifying them for 60 percent HEU would be straightforward and well within Iran’s capabilities.3 Historically, the term highly enriched uranium was developed in the nuclear weapon states to distinguish between enriched uranium able to fuel a practical nuclear weapon versus enriched uranium, labeled low enriched uranium, unable to do so. Their cutoff is at 20 percent enriched uranium. At the least, a device made from 60 percent HEU would be suitable for underground nuclear testing or delivery by a crude delivery system such as an aircraft, shipping container, or truck, sufficient to establish Iran as a nuclear power.
Moreover, Iran could further enrich its stock of 60 percent enriched uranium quickly to weapon-grade uranium, where this threshold quantity would be enough to produce about 25 kilograms, enough for a nuclear weapon and close to the IAEA-defined significant quantity. The delay caused by further enrichment would be measured in days if Iran used a significant part of its enrichment capacity and weeks if Iran operates just two production-scale cascades of advanced centrifuges.
Avoiding this uncharted threshold is a priority. To that end, Iran’s recent move to chemically convert some of its HEU into an oxide form would suggest positive news, but it is not a remedy and does not prevent other dangerous situations. This new development does not reduce breakout timelines, may disguise preparation to make HEU metal, and creates other dangerous precedents. Moreover, Iran’s actions stand in sharp conflict with today’s international norms to avoid civilian HEU.
As this report was being finalized for publication, Iran’s head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that Iran would keep 2.5 kg of its 60 percent enriched uranium stock, referring to a draft nuclear deal that is yet to be finalized.4 His comment implies the rest of the HEU stock would be eliminated in some manner. The 2.5 kg is likely a part of the HEU stock that has been converted into oxide form and partly used to make target plates for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). While such an agreement would reduce the 60 percent stock dramatically, it would legitimize Iran’s use of civilian HEU and allow Iran to lock in a valuable precedent for HEU production, conversion, irradiation, and processing later. If true, this concession would represent a significant weakening of the conditions in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This report will shed light on what this 2.5 kg quantity of 60 percent is, its usefulness in a breakout, and the risks posed by Iran’s production and use of HEU.
Accumulation and Conversion of HEU
We estimated several months ago, first based on the quarterly IAEA Iran report from November 2021, and then again in March 2022, that Iran could accumulate a significant quantity of 60 percent HEU by spring 2022, based on its average daily production of 60 percent HEU up to the date of the IAEA reports.5 More specifically, based on Iran’s daily average production of 0.149 kg 60 percent HEU (uranium mass) from December 2021 through February 2022, and a stock of 33.2 kg as of February 19, it would have taken Iran 46 days, or until April 6, 2022, to accumulate 40 kg of 60 percent HEU (uranium mass).
In early March 2022, Iran converted a small quantity of its stock of 60 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride into an oxide form at an Esfahan facility, for subsequent use as targets in the Tehran Research Reactor to make molybdenum 99 (moly-99), a medical isotope.6 Earlier, it had shipped 23.7 kg of 60 percent HEU hexafluoride to Esfahan from the Natanz enrichment plant. However, Iran’s recent conversion of just 2.1 kg of HEU–equaling the amount Iran produces on average in two weeks–would only marginally delay the timeline to accumulate 40 kg to April 21.
Even if Iran converted a second batch of 2.1 kg HEUF6 to U3O8 in March 2022, this would roughly balance out the 4.5 kg of 60 percent enriched uranium (uranium mass) Iran is expected to have produced in March, based on its average monthly production earlier this year. If so, breakout timelines, which heavily depend on the 60 percent stock, would be roughly the same as at the end of February, absent a change in enrichment capacity.
Some may argue that chemical conversion into an oxide form does lengthen the breakout timeline. It is true it could take longer to convert the oxide compound back to hexafluoride form for enrichment in centrifuges than produce the first quantity of weapon-grade uranium, when breakout timelines are measured in terms of a few weeks. However, it could be reconverted to hexafluoride form for use in producing subsequent quantities of weapon-grade uranium and certainly used in producing the first weapon-grade quantity if the breakout timeline lengthens significantly.
It is also true that breakout timelines would lengthen if Iran converted additional 60 percent HEU from UF6 to U3O8 and made and irradiated HEU fuel plates faster than it produced new 60 percent enriched uranium. Irradiation in the TRR does make it harder to reuse the HEU. But it is unlikely if any but a tiny quantity of the HEU stock could be irradiated in the TRR. The TRR is a small reactor with a power of only 5 megawatts-thermal and less than optimal neutron fluxes to irradiate the HEU, leaving little space or capacity to use any but small amounts of HEU in targets.
Alternatively, the HEU oxide could be converted into HEU metal for direct use in a nuclear weapon if further enrichment was not desired. In that sense, Iran’s transfer of 23.3 kg of 60 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride from the Natanz enrichment site to Esfahan could be interpreted as preparation for using the bulk of this material in a breakout to a nuclear explosive using 60 percent enriched uranium.
Because conversion from HEU oxide to HEU hexafluoride or HEU metal is so straightforward, converting HEU hexafluoride into an oxide form is usually not seen as proliferation resistant or a substitute to a ban on production of HEU combined with the blending down or export of all national stocks of HEU.
The conversion of 60 percent enriched uranium to targets involves several steps with two critical stages, one, the production of U3O8 from highly enriched UF6, and two, the production of the target plate, which likely involves the pressing together of the U3O8 powder with aluminum powder.
Iran reached the first stage of converting 2.1 kg 60 percent UF6, or HEUF6, into 1.8 kg HEU3O8 between March 7 and March 9, 2022.7 (Eslami is likely referring to this HEU, despite the numbers not matching exactly.) These amounts are given in uranium mass and indicate a loss and scrap rate of 300 grams of 60 percent uranium, or 14 percent.8
On March 11, Iran began stage two, making the target plates. Each plate contains about 5.8 grams of HEU mass. By March 15, Iran had produced a total of 88 targets, containing 515.7 grams of 60 percent uranium (5.86 grams per target and 3.52 grams of uranium 235 per target). If Iran continued producing targets at this rate, Iran may have used all or nearly all of the 1.8 kg uranium in the form of HEU3O8 by the end of March.
On March 15, Iran told the IAEA that it had inserted 32 HEU targets into the TRR for irradiation to make moly-99, containing 186.7 grams of HEU. The irradiation cycle for moly-99 production is relatively short, typically about one week, although the exact length is not known for the TRR, which has a lower thermal neutron flux than other reactors making moly-99. Nonetheless, assuming a seven day irradiation cycle, and a steady state of 32 targets per week for 21 weeks per year,9 the total annual need for HEU would be about 4 kg. This value could be increased somewhat, but is just as likely to be lower, given the reactor’s age and relatively low power. But this calculation indicates that the maximum amount of HEU usable in targets to make moly-99 is very low, in particular compared to Iran’s recent production levels of HEU.
Iran also announced in March that it intends to separate the moly-99 from the irradiated HEU and other fission products at the hot cells at the Molybdenum, Iodine, and Xenon Radioisotope Production (MIX) facility. Such processing would need to occur soon after the targets are irradiated since moly-99 has a half-life of only 66 hours, less than three days, meaning that delays result in rapid losses of moly-99 through radioactive decay. Moly-99 thus cannot be stockpiled in the irradiated target. Typically, moly-99 production and use in medicine is tightly scheduled and highly time dependent. Because the HEU target is only lightly irradiated, the recovered HEU remains near its original enrichment level. So, moly-99 production is not a method of eliminating HEU.
It is possible that Iran has converted additional 60 percent enriched uranium to U3O8, utilizing more of the 23.3 kg of HEU transferred earlier to Esfahan from Natanz. With the small amount usable in targets, significant conversion would be unlikely for moly-99 production. Moreover, the initial conversion suffered relatively high losses, 300 grams. While this amount may appear small, it is relatively large compared to Iran’s production of 60 percent enriched uranium, where daily average production was at just below 150 grams in the early months of 2022.10 Despite the losses, which could be reduced via practice, conversion could continue as a step in eventually going from HEU hexafluoride to HEU metal.
Violations of International Norms
Often lost in this discussion is that sixty percent enriched uranium is not needed to produce moly-99, since 20 percent enrichment is today’s universally accepted upper bound enrichment level for moly targets. All of the major commercial producers of moly-99 have agreed to this norm.11
Iran’s recent actions are thus seen as provocative, especially since the rest of the world has spent decades converting to the use of low enriched uranium targets to make moly-99, some even use natural uranium.12 One of the last of the major holdouts on conversion, the 100 megawatt-thermal Belgium BR reactor, a reactor twenty times larger than the Tehran Research Reactor, started its conversion to the use of LEU targets in 2020 and is expected to finish it in 2022.13 The entire purpose of this global, multi-decade effort is to reduce the amount of HEU in the civilian fuel cycle, thereby reducing the proliferation risks, including to terrorists, posed by HEU. Iran appears insensitive to this effort, even though it could use low enriched uranium, even natural uranium, to make moly-99, increasing doubts that its true purpose is purely civilian.
Given Iran’s poor non-proliferation credentials, one must ask whether Iran will try to use moly-99 production as a justification to produce 90 percent HEU. Like in nuclear weapons, 60 percent enriched uranium is sufficient for moly-99 production, but 90 percent material is better. Afterall, moly-99 is a fission product of U-235, and the more available the uranium 235, the more moly-99 can accumulate in each target.
Not only is this a dangerous idea, its logic is contradicted by the accomplishments of the multi-decade, multi-lateral efforts to design and produce reliable LEU targets. These targets have an increased density of uranium, allowing for a greater density of uranium 235 as well, compensating for the lower enrichment level. After several decades of work, the world’s reactor programs have lowered the enrichment level in targets to below 20 percent. Iran’s actions stand in sharp contrast to that worldwide effort and should be fiercely resisted.
Absent IAEA assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, Iran’s production and use of HEU should be seen as directly or via further enrichment building a stock of material intended for use in nuclear weapons, a way to be more prepared to build nuclear weapons in the event the leadership gives the order.
It is hard to fathom Iran’s internal thinking behind its recent, provocative HEU conversion. Is it to give a misleading impression of limiting its stock of 60 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride below a key threshold? Or is it a sly attempt to create a precedent or excuse to produce it in the future in a post-nuclear limitation environment, or even keep a portion of its 60 percent stock in case of a nuclear deal? AEOI-head Eslami’s proud declaration of keeping some of the HEU under a deal would suggest Iran has achieved the latter to the detriment of the West.
Although conversion followed by irradiation reduces Iran’s usable HEU stock marginally in a breakout, this is not a viable pathway and creates an unnecessary and dangerous precedent for the use of HEU in its civil nuclear program. This precedent could justify Iran’s further production of HEU in the absence of a deal, in the event of a new nuclear deal following the sunset on enrichment levels, or after a future deal’s breakdown. A sounder position is to insist that Iran stop producing HEU permanently and ship out or blend down to low enriched uranium its whole HEU stock, whatever its form.
1. Uranium mass is used in the report unless otherwise noted. ↩
6. Director General, Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), GOV/INF/2022/8, March 16, 2022. ↩
7. Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), GOV/INF/2022/8, March 16, 2022. ↩
8. If the amounts given included the mass of the other elements in the chemical compounds, fluorine and oxygen, respectively, the amounts would translate to 1.416 kg uranium mass and 1.525 kg uranium mass. Since an increase in uranium mass is not plausible, the unit appears to be uranium mass only. ↩
An Iranian graphic of Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and stained Israeli and Bahraini flags. (Tasnim)
Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
Vol. 22, No. 7
Since Bahrain’s announcement on forging ties with Israel, demands within Iran to restore Bahrain to Iranian rule have returned with greater intensity. Iran has repeatedly warned recently that it sees Israeli activity in Bahrain as endangering its own security interests and declares that it will not hesitate to attack targets in the kingdom, whether by itself or through its proxies.
Bahrain is of particular historical, religious, and political importance to Iran. Bahrain was once under Persian rule (1602‒1783), and as Iranian’s “14th province,” it sent representatives to the Iranian Majlis (parliament). A recent documentary film, The 14th Province, has won prizes in Iranian film festivals organized by revolutionary elements.
A Sunni minority rules Bahrain’s Shiite majority, and part of the population is Persian in origin. Increased Iranian subversion in the kingdom through local Shiite terrorist groups and Shiite opposition parties operated by Iran is highly likely. Leading Iranian media, such as Kayhan, which reflects the opinions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are already inciting Bahrainis to pick up arms.
Terrorist cells in Bahrain operate with Iranian supervision and funding. Although most of these cells have been thwarted by Bahrain, those still active are capable of destabilizing the country if Iran turns up the flames.
Another question is whether Iran will try to invade Bahrain in a manner reminiscent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Tehran supports. Bahrain is susceptible to an Iranian strike involving ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones on strategic targets in the kingdom, despite the fact that it hosts the U.S. Navy’s main naval base for the Fifth Fleet in the Gulf region.
Iran has repeatedly warned recently that it sees Israeli activity in Bahrain as endangering its own security interests, and it will not hesitate to attack in response. Since the signing of the Abraham Accords and the bolstering of their diplomatic-security significance (with visits to the kingdom by Prime Minister Bennett, Foreign Minister Lapid, and Defense Minister Gantz, along with the Negev Summit in Israel attended by Bahrain’s foreign minister, among others), Iran has been more and more concerned about the implications of Israel’s growing ties with the Gulf States in general and with Bahrain in particular. Iran also claims that the Israeli presence in Kurdistan endangers its national security and hence launched missiles at a “Mossad base” in Erbil on February 13, 2022.1
Top Iranian Officials Lambast Growing Ties with Israel
In his weekly press conference on April 4, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh drew a connection between the expected appointment of an Israeli military attaché to the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is stationed in Bahrain, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC’s) missile attack on Erbil in mid-March.2 Asked what the appointment meant for Iran, Khatibzadeh said it could be summed up in one word, “Erbil,” and added that Israel “is doing all it can to prevent the normalization of the situation in the region [i.e., the Gulf and Iraq].”
Khatibzadeh also criticized the Negev Summit, saying that the “[Arab] governments that took part in the meeting [the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and Morocco], which their peoples have rejected, are seeking legitimization in other places.” He added that Israel was trying to redefine the Arab agenda by turning Iran into a threat at the expense of the Palestinian people but declared that “the main thing in the Islamic world is the Palestinian issue.” Back in October 2021, the spokesperson criticized Foreign Minister Lapid’s visit to the kingdom and described his reception by its rulers as “humiliating and against the will of the noble and free people of Bahrain…. This step will not legitimize the Zionist regime and will not affect the liberation of Al-Quds [Jerusalem].”3
President Raisi, in an April 3 telephone conversation with his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih, asserted that “any country in the region that overlooks the power-hungry machinations of the United States and Israel jeopardizes not only its security interests but also the security of the entire Islamic ummah.”4
In a similar vein, IRGC Commander Hossein Salami said on March 30, 2022, during a visit to the island of Abu Musa—strategically located at the opening of the Strait of Hormuz and disputed with the United Arab Emirates—that “unfortunately, some of the states along the southern littoral of the Persian Gulf have established diplomatic and security ties with the Zionist entity, posing a grave threat to the security of the region and to the regimes themselves…. We declare and warn,” Salami continued, “that continuing these relations is unacceptable, and the Gulf States must recognize that the contaminating presence of the Zionist regime in any location undermines security and that its existence in the region is, in any case, intolerable. The Gulf States must rethink their political behavior.”5
On April 5, the lead headline of IRGC-affiliated newspaper Javan— “Warning: What Happened in Erbil Can Happen in Bahrain”—echoed the words of the Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Iran, the paper added, had admonished Israel that “anything bad that happens in the Gulf will not remain unanswered.” Javan also quoted Salami’s demand that “the Zionists stop sowing evil in the region,” warning that otherwise, they would again “suffer the bitter taste of the missile attack.”6
In acknowledging responsibility for the March 13 attack, the IRGC wrote that the target was a “strategic center that spreads the Zionist evil in Erbil” and that “after [Israel’s] latest crimes and Iran’s avowal that it would respond to them, the Zionist center was struck by powerful and accurate missiles.” The announcement warned “the Zionist regime” that “new crimes will draw a harsh and destructive response…. The security of the Iranian homeland constitutes a red line, and we will not allow anyone to violate it.”
Tehran Threatens and Attacks Its Neighbors
As Tehran sees a growing threat from Bahrain, it declares that it will not hesitate to attack targets in the kingdom, whether by itself or through its proxies, the Houthis in Yemen and the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Tehran may already be preparing public opinion for such a measure.
On September 4, 2021, the Houthis simultaneously attacked several Saudi targets, including the city of Dammam in the eastern part of the kingdom not far from Bahrain, with weaponized drones and ballistic missiles. The target was the giant Aramco oil company’s Ras Tanura residential camp. On January 17 and 24, 2022, the Houthis attacked the neighboring United Arab Emirates, claiming they targeted the Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi with Zulfiqar ballistic missiles and “important sites” in Dubai with Samad-3 UAVs. During the January 17 attack, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) made its first operational use. THAAD is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles before they reenter the atmosphere.
On the day of the attack in Dammam, and probably not coincidently, Iran strongly criticized Bahrain “for not learning the lessons of the past and making the same mistakes in its suicide route…. It ties its fate to the fate of the illegal Zionist entity that is on its way to oblivion.” The Aramco facility at Ras Tanura (in the Dammam region) is only 50 miles from Manama, the capital of Bahrain. The target was probably chosen to signal to Bahrain that it was within range of Houthi missiles and drones. An editorial in Kayhan, a mouthpiece for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, accused the royal family (“the Pirates of Manama”) of treason and “imprisonment, torture and killing of innocent Bahraini civilians.” The Iranian publication added that, just a few days earlier, Bahrain inaugurated — “contrary to the opinion of the proud people of Bahrain—an Israeli embassy in Manama, ignoring the protests of thousands of Bahrainis who showed solidarity with Palestine…. On the same day, Bahrain also inaugurated an embassy in Israel.”7
Sowing Discord in Bahrain
Tehran also amplifies Bahraini opposition voices against the kingdom’s rulers, normalizing relations with Israel, and the Fifth Fleet’s presence in the kingdom. Kayhan published a statement by the Coalition Youth of 14 February Revolution (a Bahraini opposition group formed during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising): “One of the most important functions and missions of the American military base is to preserve the Al Khalifa dynasty, which serves them in Bahrain. The base has trained Jordanian, Pakistani, Syrian, and Yemeni mercenaries on how to suppress Bahrain’s popular uprising that began in mid-February 2011.”8 The opposition group averred that Bahrain has turned into a “den of espionage as well as a key center for reconnaissance and spying activities against Iran and resistance groups.” The Coalition Youth of 14 February Revolution demanded the dismantling of the U.S. naval base at Juffair, Bahrain, and the expulsion of “all American and Israeli officers, security, and military advisers.”9
The Israeli-Bahraini normalization of relations is another significant and painful blow to Iran’s soft belly. However, unlike in the case of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain is of particular historical, religious, and political importance to Iran. Bahrain was once under Persian rule (1602‒1783), and as Iranian’s “14th province,” it sent representatives to the Iranian Majlis (parliament). A Sunni minority rules Bahrain’s Shiite majority, and part of the population is Persian in origin. In recent years, especially during President Ahmadinejad’s tenure, demands were raised to restore Bahrain to Iranian rule. Since Bahrain’s announcement on forging ties with Israel, those calls have returned at greater intensity.
Bahrain, a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is in Iran’s crosshairs. As noted, it hosts the U.S. Navy’s main base for the Fifth Fleet in the Gulf region and representatives of the Royal British Navy. Bahrain effectively serves as a microcosm of the significant processes and upheavals in the Middle East, which have gradually unraveled the old order and the old narratives (the Sykes-Picot Treaty, territories for peace, and pan-Arabism). These have been replaced by a new regional order that responds to growing threats posed by Iran—in the short and medium-term, the terror threat, and in the long-term, the nuclear threat, which would provide Iran with an umbrella to widen its subversion and terror activity across the region.
Even before the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Iran has pressed, principally via the Revolutionary Guards, to destabilize the Bahraini kingdom and bring down the minority Sunni rule. Bahrain’s decision, with apparent Saudi backing, to normalize relations with Israel—and all the more so, to augment them in the diplomatic, security, and economic spheres—will very likely lead to increased Iranian subversion in the kingdom through the local Shiite terrorist groups and the Shiite opposition parties that Iran operates, with assistance from the Lebanese Hizbullah. Leading Iranian media, such as Kayhan, are already inciting Bahrainis to pick up arms to protect their rights and predicting that Bahrain will be the first of the Gulf States to fall.
Iran is already signaling its plans for a new order during the new Iranian year (1401), which began on March 21, 2022. Kayhan has been outlining a process in which the Gulf States and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula will “win independence.” The process advances from Yemen, when “the Yemenis decisively defeat the U.S.-Zionist-engineered invasion of their country,” to Bahrain, where “the long-oppressed Bahraini people should be assisted in materializing their dream of establishing a democratic state free of the tentacles of a highly repressive [Sunni] minority regime,” to Saudi Arabia, where the paper envisions, by the end of the year, “the end of the clannish rule of a minority cult…where Muslims are massacred on the slightest pretext and the tenets of Islam are being trampled by a megalomaniac in league with the Americans and the Zionists.”10
The IRGC, through its special-operations arm, the Quds Force, is responsible for implementing the policy of exporting the revolution to Bahrain and inciting the Shiites against its rulers. As soon as the Israeli-Bahraini ties were established, the IRGC issued an announcement calling for rebellion and civil protest in Bahrain:
For the executioner, the ruler of Bahrain, harsh revenge awaits from the fighters for Jerusalem and the proud Muslims of the kingdom…. The shameful step taken by the royal [Al Khalifa] family, and the government that is dependent on it, of establishing relations with the Zionist entity against the opinion and the ideals of the Muslim residents of the country is a great folly that lacks all legitimacy and will receive a fitting response.
The domino effect of renewing relations with the Zionist regime—taken by several Arab rulers [implying Saudi Arabia] and to the delight of the White House and the hated and foolish U.S. president—is a continuation of the humiliation of the Muslim countries and the plundering of their natural resources and wealth…. All this is in order to provide security to Israel and to hurt the Palestinians. However, in reversing the equations, these steps will, in fact, bolster the determination of the Islamic ummah and bring to the surface the hidden and unseen capabilities of the anti-Zionist resistance to expel the cancer named Israel from the geography of the Muslim world.
The document warns “Al Khalifa and other arrogant traitors of the regime in Bahrain” against
opening the gates to the entry and influence of the Zionist regime in the strategic region of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman… The satanic and cruel measures taken by the tyrannical regime in Bahrain, like other satanic plans and treasonous plans for a compromise, have been of no benefit to the United States and the supporters of the Zionist regime; instead, those who stood behind these treasonous and virulent steps will eventually be a target of the holy rage and deadly revenge of the Islamic ummah and especially the Shiite residents of Bahrain, who now wave proudly the flag of “We love you [Imam] Hossein” [the age-old symbol of Shiite sacrifice]…. These [Shiites] are recalling the humiliation and will tear the mask from the face of those who pose an ongoing threat to the security of the West Asian region and of the Muslim world through acts of oppression, terror, murder, and the sowing of instability and insecurity.11
Iran Versus Growing Ties between Israel and Arabs
As the cooperation between Israel and the Gulf States expands, Iran will try to thwart it with intensified subversive activity, employing the proxy organizations under its authority. It will not hesitate to launch missiles and drones at Bahrain. Iran does not settle for words and is working to destabilize Bahrain, particularly by mobilizing and inciting the Shiite population. In so doing, Iran uses instructors from the Lebanese Hizbullah (according to the model of the local Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen) to promote its interests and prepare the ground for a coup in Bahrain. It also employs clandestine cells, information collection, and the incitement of the Shiite population to protest and subversive activity. In 2013, the Quds Force set up the Islamic resistance—the (Malik) Al-Ashtar Brigades (Saraya al-Ashtar)—in an attempt to overthrow the Royal Bahraini family, using the Hizbullah model.12
These statements, which undermine Bahrain’s Arabness, independence, and sovereignty—albeit unusual—intensify Bahraini concerns about Iran’s ongoing incitement, subversion, and repeated attempts to overthrow the monarchy. The Iranian threats, and the feeling that the United States is no longer a solid and reliable partner, underpin Bahrain’s and other Gulf States’ warming of ties with Israel to forge a regional alliance against Iran. Those countries are particularly frustrated by the United States’ unwillingness to help them defend against the growing threat of Iranian-made UAVs, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles employed by the Houthis that have targeted critical oil and civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; and at the same time, by U.S. enthusiasm to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran and even remove the IRGC from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation list. Senior Iranian officials continue to claim that until its independence, Bahrain was Iran’s 14th province, and they harshly criticize the Shah’s “disgraceful” decision to cede Bahrain. For example, Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of Kayhan and a close associate of Khamenei, stated in July 2007 that “the governments of the Gulf states were established as a result of the direct interference of global condescension [i.e., the Western powers]…and were accused by their people of collaborating with the Zionist entity…. They know full well that the earthquake that shook Iran [the Islamic Revolution] would bring [sooner or later] the collapse of their illegal regimes.” He said this was not a personal opinion but that of the Iranian and Bahraini people. A recent documentary film, The 14th Province, which deals with the events that led to Bahrain’s declaration of independence in 1971, has won prizes in Iranian film festivals organized by revolutionary elements. The Unforgivable Sin: Separating Bahrain from Iran: The Fake Referendum, a new book, has also been published recently.13
From Iran’s standpoint, the enhancement of diplomatic and security ties between Israel and the United States on the one hand and Bahrain—which it still views as part of Iran—on the other, and the strengthening of the Israeli presence in the region, constitute red lines. Iran sees these unfolding relations as entering a new and dangerous stage, moving toward Iran’s backyard and encircling its borders. Iran’s attempts to destabilize Bahrain via the Shiite majority and terrorist organizations, recruited from within and aided by the successful Hizbullah and Houthi models, will likely intensify and become more violent, particularly in the vicinity of Manama. Iranian propaganda is already paving the way by blatantly inciting the Shiite majority against the normalization of ties with Israel. Terrorist cells in Bahrain operate with Iranian supervision and funding dating back to Qasem Soleimani. Although most of these cells have been thwarted by Bahrain, those still active are capable of destabilizing the country if Iran turns up the flames.14
Will Iran Invade Bahrain?
Another question is whether Iran, which is genuinely concerned about the growing “Zionist” presence in the Gulf region and on its northern border, will try to invade Bahrain in a manner reminiscent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Tehran supports.15 Iran would thereby aim to regain sovereignty over a country it sees as its rightful possession and as posing a growing danger to its security, even if this entails risking a direct confrontation with the United States and Saudi Arabia. Such a scenario has probably been discussed in Iran, and contingency plans have been developed to implement it. For now, books and films on the subject are being produced there, possibly to prepare local public opinion for such a move.
Meanwhile, Bahrain is more susceptible to an Iranian strike (involving ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones, etc.) on strategic targets in the kingdom to demonstrate its anger over the warming of ties with Israel, as Tehran hinted recently. American anti-aircraft radars and defenses for the Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain would detect any attack on the country. Iran may, deliberately or not—hit U.S. military targets as part of a confrontation in the Persian Gulf.
According to two studies, nuclear weapons could also pose a huge environmental threat.
[Source Images: iStock; Getty]
Experts insist the odds of the conflict in Ukraine escalating to one that would lead to a nuclear event are remote. But despite that, 69% of Americans surveyed by the American Psychological Association say they “are worried the invasion of Ukraine is going to lead to nuclear war.”
The focus of many people in that unlikely event is the initial blast, which would cause mass casualties and unimaginable devastation. When the U.S. detonated nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 77 years ago, it leveled the cities and killed more than 100,000 to 200,000 people from the blasts or radiation sickness.
But, according to scientists, the horrors of a nuclear war could affect the whole planet. A number of studies have examined possibilities, with a special focus on the environment, and it’s not encouraging.
As you might expect, the extent of the nuclear exchange plays a tremendous role in the impact. One or two nuclear impacts would not have global effects, according to a 2012 analysis published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. But the impact of 100 weapons the size of the one that fell on Hiroshimawould lower temperatures around the world to below those of the Little Ice Age that occurred from roughly 1300 to 1850. That would result in crop failures and famine on a wide scale.
In a separate study, from 2014, four U.S. atmospheric and environmental scientists modeled the aftereffects of a conflict that also explored the effects of a detonation of 100 warheads—in this case picturing what would happen if the battle took place over the Indian subcontinent. Here’s what they found:
Five megatons of soot and ash would fill the sky, bringing about a “nuclear winter.”
After one year, the average surface temperature of earth would fall by about 2 degrees. After five years, the earth would be three degrees cooler than it was. Twenty years down the road, it would warm up to one degree below where it was before the nuclear event.
That might sound beneficial, given all the talk about global warming today, but lower temperatures mean less rain. Five years after the detonation, rainfall would be at 91% of current levels. After 26 years, we would still see 4.5% less rain than we did before the war. And the reduced rainfall would bring about global drought conditions.
Depending on the region, growing seasons for crops would be 10 to 40 days shorter, resulting in widespread famine.
The ozone layer would diminish due to the radiation, ultimately becoming as much as 25% thinner for the first five years after the event. After 10 years, there would be some recovery, but it would still be 8% thinner. This would result in a rise in skin cancer and sunburns. And the increased ultraviolet rays would put plant and animal life that survived the initial blast at risk.
It wouldn’t necessarily take 100 missiles for those theories to be tested, either. The United States’ modern B83 bombs are 80 times more powerful than the weapon that hit Hiroshima. Russia has tested weapons that are even more powerful. That said, experts say that if Russia were to use nukes in Ukraine, it would likely use “tactical” weapons, which are less powerful than the ones the United States used in World War II but could still cause widespread casualties from radiation.
Scientists warn that ripple effects of a nuclear war could be devastating for everyone on Earth. “The combined cooling and enhanced UV would put significant pressures on global food supplies and could trigger a global nuclear famine,” said the authors of the 2014 report. “Knowledge of the impacts of 100 small nuclear weapons should motivate the elimination of more than [13,000] nuclear weapons that exist today.”
Pakistan’s powerful military has traditionally controlled foreign and defence policy, but Khan’s sharp public rhetoric had an impact on a number of key relationships.
Ties between Pakistan’s military intelligence agency and the Islamist Taliban have loosened in recent years.
Now that the Taliban are back in power – amid an economic and humanitarian crisis due to a lack of money and international isolation – Qatar is arguably the country’s most important foreign partner, a position once held by Pakistan.
Tensions have risen between the Taliban and Pakistan’s military, which has lost several soldiers in attacks close to their mutual border. Pakistan wants the Taliban to do more to crack down on extremist groups and worries they will spread violence into Pakistan. That has begun to happen already.
Khan had been less critical of the Taliban over human rights than most foreign leaders.
Khan consistently emphasised China’s positive role in Pakistan and in the world at large.
The $60bn (£46bn) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which binds the neighbours together, was conceptualised and launched under Pakistan’s two established political parties, both of which are likely to share power in the new government.
Potential successor Sharif, the younger brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, struck deals with China directly as chief minister of the eastern province of Punjab, and his reputation for getting major infrastructure projects off the ground while avoiding political grandstanding could in fact be music to Beijing’s ears.
The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over the disputed Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir.
Tensions along the de facto border in Kashmir are at their lowest level since 2021, thanks to a ceasefire. But there have been no formal diplomatic talks for years because of deep distrust over a range of issues, including Khan’s extreme criticism of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, over his handling of attacks on minority Muslims in India.
Karan Thapar, an Indian political commentator who has closely followed India-Pakistan relations, said the Pakistani military could put pressure on the new government in Islamabad to build on the successful ceasefire in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s powerful army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said recently that his country was ready to move forward on Kashmir if India agrees.
The Sharif dynasty has been at the forefront of several dovish overtures towards India over the years.
US-based south Asia experts have said Pakistan’s political crisis is unlikely to be a priority for President Joe Biden, who is grappling with the war in Ukraine, unless it leads to mass unrest or rising tensions with India.
“We have so many other fish to fry,” said Robin Raphel, a former assistant secretary of state for south Asia who is a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies thinktank.
With the Pakistani military maintaining its behind-the-scenes control of foreign and security policies, the change of government was not a major concern, according to some analysts.
“Since it’s the military that calls the shots on the policies that the US really cares about, ie Afghanistan, India and nuclear weapons, internal Pakistani political developments are largely irrelevant for the US,” said Curtis, who served as then-US President Donald Trump’s national security council senior director for south Asia.
She added that Khan’s visit to Moscow had been a “disaster” in terms of US relations, and that a new government in Islamabad could at least help mend ties.
Khan has blamed the US for the current political crisis, saying that Washington wanted him removed because of the recent Moscow trip. Washington denies any role.