Faults Underlying Exercise Vigilant GuardStory by: (Author NameStaff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta – 138th Public Affairs Detachment Dated: Thu, Nov 5, 2009 This map illustrates the earthquake fault lines in Western New York. An earthquake in the region is a likely event, says University of Buffalo Professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. TONAWANDA, NY — An earthquake in western New York, the scenario that Exercise Vigilant Guard is built around, is not that far-fetched, according to University of Buffalo geology professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. When asked about earthquakes in the area, Jacobi pulls out a computer-generated state map, cross-hatched with diagonal lines representing geological faults. The faults show that past earthquakes in the state were not random, and could occur again on the same fault systems, he said. “In western New York, 6.5 magnitude earthquakes are possible,” he said. This possibility underlies Exercise Vigilant Guard, a joint training opportunity for National Guard and emergency response organizations to build relationships with local, state, regional and federal partners against a variety of different homeland security threats including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. The exercise was based on an earthquake scenario, and a rubble pile at the Spaulding Fibre site here was used to simulate a collapsed building. The scenario was chosen as a result of extensive consultations with the earthquake experts at the University of Buffalo’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), said Brig. Gen. Mike Swezey, commander of 53rd Troop Command, who visited the site on Monday. Earthquakes of up to 7 magnitude have occurred in the Northeastern part of the continent, and this scenario was calibrated on the magnitude 5.9 earthquake which occurred in Saguenay, Quebec in 1988, said Jacobi and Professor Andre Filiatrault, MCEER director. “A 5.9 magnitude earthquake in this area is not an unrealistic scenario,” said Filiatrault. Closer to home, a 1.9 magnitude earthquake occurred about 2.5 miles from the Spaulding Fibre site within the last decade, Jacobi said. He and other earthquake experts impaneled by the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada in 1997 found that there’s a 40 percent chance of 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurring along the Clareden-Linden fault system, which lies about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, Jacobi added. Jacobi and Filiatrault said the soft soil of western New York, especially in part of downtown Buffalo, would amplify tremors, causing more damage. “It’s like jello in a bowl,” said Jacobi. The area’s old infrastructure is vulnerable because it was built without reinforcing steel, said Filiatrault. Damage to industrial areas could release hazardous materials, he added. “You’ll have significant damage,” Filiatrault said. Exercise Vigilant Guard involved an earthquake’s aftermath, including infrastructure damage, injuries, deaths, displaced citizens and hazardous material incidents. All this week, more than 1,300 National Guard troops and hundreds of local and regional emergency response professionals have been training at several sites in western New York to respond these types of incidents. Jacobi called Exercise Vigilant Guard “important and illuminating.” “I’m proud of the National Guard for organizing and carrying out such an excellent exercise,” he said. Training concluded Thursday.
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Monday announced a freeze on U.S. inspections of its nuclear arsenals under a pivotal arms control treaty, claiming that Western sanctions have hampered similar tours of U.S. facilities by Russian monitors.
The move reflects soaring tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military action in Ukraine and marks the first time the Kremlin halted U.S. inspections under the New START nuclear arms control treaty.
In declaring the freeze on U.S. inspections, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the sanctions on Russian flights imposed by the U.S. and its allies, visa restrictions and other obstacles effectively have made it impossible for Russian military experts to visit U.S. nuclear weapons sites, giving the U.S. “unilateral advantages.”
The Biden administration had no immediate public response to the move. Ankit Panda, an expert on nuclear policy at the Carnegie Endowment for IXAnternational Peace, called Russia’s action “a cynical attempt to pressure the United States” over penalties the West has imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
“They basically are using New START inspections — something the U.S. cares about — to force Washington’s hands,” Panda said.
Russia claimed that U.S. inspectors have not faced such difficulties, even though Moscow has closed its skies to the European Union’s 27 nations, the U.K. and Canada — though not the U.S. — after the start of the conflict in Ukraine in late February. Russia said at the time that exceptions would be made for diplomatic missions and deliveries of humanitarian aid.
It noted that Russia “highly values” the New START, adding that inspections could resume after the problems hampering them are solved.
“Russia is fully committed to abiding by all of the provisions of New START, which we see as a crucial tool for maintaining international security and stability,” the ministry said, urging a “thorough study of all existing problems in this area, the successful settlement of which would allow a return to full-scale application as soon as possible of all verification mechanisms of the Treaty.”
“After the problems regarding the resumption of inspection activities under the Treaty are resolved, we will immediately lift the exemptions from inspection activities that we have announced,” the ministry said.
The New START treaty, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.
Just days before the New START was due to expire in February 2021, Russia and the United States agreed to extend it for another five years.
“At a time when nuclear risks between the two sides are far from waning, it’s essential that the inspection protocols in the Treaty are fully restored,” he said. “The pandemic had its toll on New START inspection activity and Moscow’s unfortunate decision stands to further jeopardize things.”
Joanna Kozlowska in London and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.
The brief weekend conflict over Gaza had a grimly familiar outcome: dozens of Palestinians killed, including militant leaders as well as children, and scores of homes damaged or destroyed, most by Israeli airstrikes but some from Palestinian misfires.
But one thing was different from the usual fighting: Hamas, the de facto civilian government in Gaza, remained on the sidelines. A smaller Islamist group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, took the lead in firing rockets — more than 1,000 of them — and bore the brunt of Israeli airstrikes, which began on Friday to pre-empt what Israel said was an imminent Islamic Jihad attack.
Though not unprecedented, Hamas’s decision confirmed the complex and shifting role that the movement has assumed since seizing control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. It also showcased the frictions among Palestinian Islamist militants about how best to fight Israel, and highlighted both the influence of Iran — which backs both Hamas and Islamic Jihad — and the limits of that support.
Hamas is still a military force that opposes Israel’s existence, and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States. But unlike Islamic Jihad, it is also a ruling administration and a social movement. Though authoritarian, Hamas is sensitive to public opinion in the enclave and must also deal, if only indirectly, with Israel to assuage the most restrictive aspects of a 15-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade that was enforced after the group took power and has decimated living conditions in Gaza.
By holding fire over the weekend, Hamas showed sensitivity to Palestinian fatigue at the prospect of yet another confrontation with Israel, at least the sixth during Hamas’s tenure. It also suggested that Hamas was wary of losing several small but significant economic measures that Israel has offered Gaza since the last major confrontation in May 2021, including 14,000 Israeli work permits that boosted the strip’s economy.
In a briefing for reporters on Monday, a senior Israeli official, speaking anonymously in order to discuss the issue more freely, said that the Israeli policy of offering more work permits over the past year had played a significant role in keeping Hamas away from this round of fighting. The official said this would encourage Israel to step up the approach in the future.
While no one expects the fundamental dynamics in Gaza to change, let alone the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some analysts, diplomats and officials hope that the perceived success of this trade-off will encourage Israel to ease more restrictions in the future, further reducing the likelihood of violence.
“Hamas doesn’t want war at this moment,” said Hugh Lovatt, an expert on Palestinian politics at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a research group. “There is a more pragmatic relationship between Hamas and Israel that has developed. To a certain extent, it might be mutual.”
Publicly, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have expressed solidarity with each other during and after the weekend conflict, and promised to join forces again in the future, much as they did during earlier rounds of fighting in 2008, 2014 and 2021.
Fundamentally, both groups have a similar goal and ideology. They have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamist movement, and seek an end to Israel and its replacement by an Islamic Palestinian state.
Muhammad al-Hindi, an Islamic Jihad official, told a Turkish broadcaster on Sunday that there was no rift between the two groups. “Our relationship with Hamas has gotten stronger and more solid,” Mr. al-Hindi said. “We entered battles together and we will enter battles side by side, together.”
In a statement posted on its website on Saturday, Hamas said it remained “united” with Islamic Jihad, adding that “the fighters of all factions are confronting this aggression as one.”
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But the two groups’ divergent behavior during the conflict reflects their differing current priorities as well as historical back stories.
Founded more than four decades ago, Islamic Jihad is older, smaller, and predominantly concerned with violent opposition to Israel. It has little interest even in participating in Palestinian political structures.
Hamas, formed in 1987, is comparatively more pragmatic — a social and political movement as well as a militant one.
It opposed efforts led by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinians, to seek a peace deal with Israel in the 1990s, mounting a lethal terrorism campaign to derail that process.
But Hamas nevertheless participates in Palestinian elections, winning the last legislative election, in 2006. It worked within unity governments in the Palestinian Authority, even after wresting Gaza from the authority’s control. And in recent years, it indicated a willingness to negotiate a long-term truce with Israel, while stopping short of recognizing its legitimacy.
“Ideologically they are not really much different — they both believe Israel has no right to exist in Palestine,” said Azzam Tamimi, an expert on political Islam and an academic affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. “But Hamas sees itself as a leader of society, not just a resistance movement.”
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad receive financial and logistical support from Iran. But their different approaches in recent days highlight how Islamic Jihad — whose leader, Ziad al-Nakhala, was visiting Tehran during the conflict — is more susceptible to Iranian influence than Hamas.
During the Syrian civil war, Islamic Jihad never broke with Iran’s close ally, Syria, despite the Syrian government’s war against rebels who were, like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, Sunni Islamists. Hamas, however, severed ties with Damascus a decade ago, in solidarity with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and only recently restored them.
“Islamic Jihad decided from the beginning that the Iranian revolution was a model, a beacon of some sort,” said Mr. Tamimi. Hamas, he added, “has always insisted that the relationship with Iran should be on the basis of cooperation not tied to any strings.”
Islamic Jihad’s battle with Israel could bolster its popularity among some Palestinians, but past polling suggests it could have the opposite effect in Gaza itself — particularly after some of the group’s rockets appeared to misfire and fell on civilian areas in the strip, video seemed to show. After a similar round of fighting in 2019, in which Hamas also stayed outside the fray, nearly half of Gazans felt Hamas was right to do so, and only a third disagreed.
Some Israelis hope that Hamas, trying to maintain favor in Gaza, will continue to stay out of future conflicts if given more economic incentives to do so.
“I want to speak directly to the residents of the Gaza Strip and tell them: There is another way,” the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, said in a speech Monday evening. “We know how to protect ourselves from anyone who threatens us, but we also know how to provide employment, a livelihood and a life of dignity to those who wish to live by our side in peace.”
Yonatan Touval, an analyst at Mitvim, an Israeli research group, said the situation even presented “an opportunity for advancing far-reaching arrangements between the two sides — first and foremost those involving the rebuilding of Gaza.”
But few expect small economic gestures to fundamentally change Hamas’s broader outlook, particularly while the blockade remains in place. Israel’s granting of 14,000 work permits has boosted the incomes of thousands of families, but doesn’t alter the lives of the majority. In the crowded enclave of 2 million, nearly half of working age adults are unemployed and only one in 10 Gazans has access to clean water.
Influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr vowed that new elections would be held as his followers flocked to a mass prayer in the occupied parts of Baghdad’s Green Zone after 10 months of political deadlock.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images
August 8, 2022
BAGHDAD — The heat was suffocating and the crowds were immense, blocking traffic and slowing emergency vehicles to a crawl.
Most were dressed in black for the holy month of Muharram when Shiites commemorate the martyrhood of their third imam. Many were carrying pictures of the cleric. The small number of women present were in long black abayas, many wearing face-covering niqabs despite temperatures of almost 50 degrees Celsius.
The bronze hands clutching the swords, known as the Victory Arch and symbolizing Saddam Hussein’s rule, had been modeled on those of the former Iraqi dictator. Sadr has instead long claimed to represent Iraq’s seething masses and oppressed underclass.
Widely billed as a “show of force” or a “power play” by Sadr, the mass Friday collective prayers and continuing occupation of part of the heavily fortified Green Zone have largely been peaceful. The few official Iraqi security forces around seem on good terms with the black-attired Sadr supporters tasked with security.
Where many Iraqi government buildings are located, the heavily fortified Green Zone has long been looked upon with suspicion and sometimes awe by those with little or no access to it. Politicians living within are often assumed by the lower classes to be supported by foreign powers.
On Friday, the part of the Green Zone occupied by Sadr supporters was crowded with thousands of people mostly from the lower classes. After the prayers, some climbed over walls to escape the crowd; others collapsed within the walls in the heat. A truck near tents set up outside the parliament area sprayed water on the barely moving mass trying to leave.
Some consider Sadr a cult leader; his supporters are known for having engaged in brutal killings during sectarian fighting over a decade ago and for following his orders unquestioningly. They were a driving force of the “resistance” against the “American occupation” after Hussein’s regime was toppled in 2003. Many arriving at the collective Muslim prayer on Jan. 5 were carrying white fabric to put on their shoulders, meant to symbolize shrouds and their willingness to be “martyred” for Sadr.
Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni parties mostly consider him a better partner for any possible future coalition than those close to the former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others deemed to be following a “foreign agenda” not benefiting the country.
Ten months after the latest parliamentary elections, Iraq’s politicians continue to squabble over power and possible alliances — with disastrous effects.
Following street protests in which dozens were injured, Sadr supporters broke into the parliament in late July and occupied the halls of decision-making. Photos circulated of them sleeping on the floors, dancing, playing video games and generally enjoying the air-conditioning. By Friday morning, the parliament building had been closed to protestors and cleaned up.
Sadr, who had ordered all of his parliament members to resign from parliament in June following the failure to form a majority government, has called for new elections.
In a public speech on Aug. 3, Sadr called for fundamental changes in Iraq’s political system, demanding the removal of the political class after 2003. He also asked for the dissolution of the current parliament and another set of early elections. Sadr has rejected Muhammad Shia Sudani, the prime ministerial candidate of the Coordination Framework, a rival alliance of Shia parties — including those aligned with Iran.
Dr. Jawad al-Musawi, a parliament member from the Sadrist bloc, told Al-Monitor that the parliament protest had served to “prevent corrupt parties and losers in elections from forming a consensus government or a quota government because this type of government has greatly harmed Iraq and fostered the spread of corruption from 2003 until today.”
Musawi, who as a medical doctor has long served his community in the poverty-stricken Baghdad district of Sadr City, added that “new elections will help to effect change and amend some articles of the constitution,” with the focus on “preventing the corrupt from participating in the elections.”
He said it was important that the text of the amendments “allow the largest bloc to form a majority government clearly and quickly,” thereby “changing the entire political system” and preventing similar protracted periods without a government or budget.
Iraq’s population is fed up, with little stomach for the sort of all-out protests in late 2019 that brought down the previous elected government and resulted in hundreds killed and thousands injured.
One woman from Sadr City told Al-Monitor at the Green Zone sit-in after Friday prayers that she was there “for those in jail.”
She said that her son — the only male in the family after her husband’s death two years ago and with several daughters to feed — had been arrested four months ago and was being held in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions while she now has no source of income.
“My son will be OK. He will come out. But those people are getting thrown in without any chance to come out,” she said without explaining further.
She and others around her complained about continuing joblessness, lack of electricity and the sharp disparity between the oil wealth the country is blessed with and the dire conditions in which most of its population lives.
One man Al-Monitor spoke to at the protest tents outside the parliament railed against former Prime Minister “Maliki, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, all the others” — referring to Iran-linked militias and politicians close to them.
A man named Ahmed from the Mohammedawi tribe told Al-Monitor that he was there because, even for those with educational qualifications, there are no jobs and now there is “no education” worthy of the name or other basic services available to most people in Iraq.
He and many others lamented the problem of unreliable electricity as one of their main complaints, noting that in a country so rich in natural resources and oil this should not be the case.
In Sadr City where he lives, Ahmed said that “there is electricity for two hours and then one hour without” in this period, with food spoiling easily and generators too expensive for many.
He said the people are tired of “having nothing” and knew little about politics except that the politicians make promises but then do not follow through on them.
The Nikkei report states that a satellite hovering at 450 kilometers detected extensive construction at the Lop Nur test site, a dried salt lakebed in the arid and restive Xinjiang region that borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The report said that China may be building a sixth tunnel for underground testing, evidenced by broken rocks piled nearby and extensive coverings erected on a nearby mountainside. The satellite photos also show power cables, possible storage facilities for high explosives and unpaved roads from command centers.
An unnamed expert from US private geospatial analysis company AllSource Analysis told Nikkei that these developments enable China to conduct nuclear-related tests anytime. The power lines and road system now connect Lop Nur’s western military nuclear test facilities to new possible test areas in the east.
Nobumasa Akiyama, a professor of East Asian security at Hitotsubashi University, told Nikkei that China’s accelerated development of the Lop Nur test site means it intends to deter US intervention in an invasion of Taiwan by threatening the use of small nuclear weapons.
Nikkei also notes that maritime control will be the primary military issue in any invasion of Taiwan. Small nuclear weapons with limited strike capabilities would be sufficient for China to ward off US aircraft carriers. This strategy mirrors that of Russia in Ukraine, with its threat of nuclear escalation used as strategic cover to pursue conventional military operations.While still trailing the US in nuclear weapons strength, experts say China is increasing its capability across the board. Credit: Handout.
The development may be part of China’s more extensive efforts to modernize its nuclear arsenal for a Taiwan scenario. Asia Times has previously reported on other stories regarding China’s nuclear arsenal, including its building of land-based nuclear silos, rail-based nukes, ballistic missile submarines and nuclear-armed stealth bombers at a rapid-fire pace.
Taiwanese and US officials have opined that China may invade Taiwan sooner than anticipated, suggesting dates as soon as 2025, 2027 and 2030.
General Mark Milley, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted in a 2021 US Naval Institute (USNI) article that China wants to acquire the military capabilities to invade and hold Taiwan by 2027. His assessment was based in part by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech calling for an acceleration of China’s military modernization and capabilities to seize Taiwan.
Moreover, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines mentioned in a 2022 CNN articlethat Taiwan faces an acute China threat between the present and 2030, noting that China is working hard to put itself in a military position to take Taiwan over a US military intervention. However, Haines declined to comment on China’s planned timeline for its move against Taiwan.
Internal factors such as flaws in China’s political system, slowing economic growth, and a shirking population may give China an added sense of urgency to strike a decisive blow against Taiwan within an accelerated timeframe.
Moreover, he notes that as strongmen leaders get to the top, they make numerous enemies in the process, which gives them a sense of urgency to stay in power for their safety.
Keating mentions Xi had made many enemies during his rise to power and that there had at least been seven attempts on his life. However, he also notes that with no clear successor in sight, settling the Taiwan issue before 2027 would cement his legitimacy and extend his hold on power.
In that connection, China’s slowing economy may give it further incentive to act on Taiwan sooner rather than later. In a 2022 Axios article, Matt Philips notes that economic analysts doubt that China will regain its breakneck economic development as seen in the 1990s and 2000s, which lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty.Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects a joint military exercise in the South China Sea in April 2018. Photo: Xinhua
With limited options to restart economic growth, Philips notes that Xi may have shifted his source of legitimacy from boosting economic growth to a broader sense of national prestige by retaking Taiwan and projecting China’s power on the world stage.
However, he also cautions that China’s escalation in the Taiwan Strait is not to provide a distraction from its present economic woes, as since 1949 China has always been very sensitive about Taiwan’s international status.
China’s slowing population growth may also weaken its military in the long run, adding another reason for resolving the Taiwan issue before the debilitating effects of demographic decline hit its military. A 2021 Taiwan News article reports that 18% of China’s population is over 60 years old, and there were only 8.5 live births per 1000 in 2020, a massive drop from 18 per 1000 in 1978.
In addition, high living costs and a hyper-competitive education system have forced many Chinese to put off having children, resulting in a significant population decline.
The same source notes that a shrinking manpower pool and Chinese youth’s preference to enter technology rather than military fields has motivated projects to bring aging veterans back to active duty.
In the last analysis, China’s push to accelerate its nuclear weapons program to deter a US intervention in a Taiwan scenario may be driven equally by military and internal factors.
Rescuers walk in the rubble of a building following Israeli airstrikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 7, 2022, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (Said Khatib/AFP)
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Top Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Monday that the sit-ins at Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone will continue as Shiite Muslims mark Ashura, adding that reform will emerge victorious in Iraq.
“Just as blood triumphed over the sword in kindness, so will reform triumph over corruption in our beloved Iraq,” Sadr stated in a statement addressing the holy day of Ashura as millions of pilgrims are expected to flock to Iraq’s holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Thousands of supporters of the revered cleric previously staged an open-ended sit-in in the Iraqi parliament building in protest of rival Coordination Framework’s nominee for the country’s premiership, later withdrawing after the Sadrist Movement ordered them to evacuate the parliament but continue their activities in its vicinity.
“Peace be upon those who follow reform, and there is no consolation for those who follow corruption,” Sadr added.