Australian Horn Grows Against China: Daniel 7

Artist rendering of possible design for SSN-AUKUS submarines. Image: Wikimedia Commons

AUKUS enhancing undersea deterrence against China

AUKUS building a wider distributed force posture closer to likely areas of operations vis-a-vis China’s PLA-Navy


In line with the Chinese Communist Party’s imperative to oversee “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049, US intelligence sources indicate that Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered the People’s Liberation Army to become capable of countering American military power in the Indo-Pacific and ready for a takeover of Taiwan by 2027.

This is an alarming prospect, lent credence by recent Chinese military exercises around the island. Admiral John Aquilino, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), in his March Congressional testimony said that the PLA Navy (PLAN) is on track to deliver 440 battle-force ships by 2030, including significant increases in aircraft carriers and major surface combatants.

As it grows in strength, the PLAN is likely to use its large naval forces to uphold further, even enforce, illegitimate Chinese claims over areas of the East and South China seas – areas through which foreign vessels of all kinds have rights to move under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China ratified in 1996.

In this worsening geopolitical environment Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have created the AUKUS submarine and technology-sharing agreement, which has been called a “trilateral, security partnership” based on defense capabilities that support “mutual national defense objectives.”

In the words of Mara Karlin, US assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, the agreement will “lift all three nations’ submarine industrial bases and undersea capabilities, enhancing deterrence and promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific.”

Deterring indirectly

Before explaining how AUKUS facilitates “direct deterrence” from the perspective of capabilities, capacity, and force posture, it is important to identify forms of “indirect deterrence,” namely by promoting deterrence through a constellation of security alignments and the strengthening of the defense industrial base.

In the case of these latter two forms of “indirect deterrence,” AUKUS – as with the US-Japan-Australia Trilateral and the Quad – is a minilateral. Such a minilateral is not strictly an alliance, but it provides its members with a shared pool of military capabilities – or what has also been dubbed a “federated model of defense.”

Within the United States, these alignments gel with the administration’s organizing principle of “integrated deterrence,” which was laid out in the 2022 National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and the Nuclear Posture Review.

In addition to accelerating efforts to promote planning, coordination, and operations among various US government agencies and US allies, AUKUS also provides integrated deterrence at the level of the defense industrial base for all three cooperating nations.

While it would be a stretch to call this “undersea deterrence,” it would also be remiss not to mention the bolstering effect AUKUS will have on naval shipyards, the nuclear enterprise and undersea sensor and weapons systems industries, which all contribute to national strength.

Directly deterring from beneath the sea

Defining deterrence as the “building of combat-credible forces across all domains and across the full spectrum of conflict to deter aggression,” Karlin also noted that AUKUS is about more than just pillars I and II, but also includes a focus on undersea deterrence throughout the Indo-Pacific across a range of areas.

At the simplest level, the agreement adds to undersea deterrence by delivering new advanced warfighting capabilities to its members, particularly Australia: it provides two types of nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) platforms – the Virginia class and “AUKUS class” to replace Australia’s aging Collins-class of conventionally powered submarines.

While it is a crude measure, more vessels with long-range capabilities, amplified by the advanced weapons capacity and kinetic effects that they can deliver at greater range, may deter an adversary more effectively, in the event that it contemplates aggression.

AUKUS map: Council on Geostrategy

AUKUS thus provides all three countries with a wider distributed force posture closer to likely areas of operations, vis-à-vis the PLA Navy in the Western Pacific.

As shown in the map above, nuclear-propelled submarines greatly complicate the PRC’s calculus. They can be sent north of Australia to stalking grounds surrounding the South and East China seas, which are critical to Chinese maritime communication lines across the Pacific and to the Middle East and East Africa.

By making these routes more vulnerable to interdiction, AUKUS forces the PLAN into a more defensive posture, which may direct resources away from large warships and logistics vessels designed for expeditionary operations.

It does this through the two-part pathway framework agreed upon in March 2023. The first part of the pathway consists of increased port visits by US and UK SSNs from 2023, which adds to the ability of INDOPACOM and the Royal Navy to regularly  position forces east of the Strait of Malacca and west of the International Date Line (IDL) – a helpful softening of the tyranny of distance confronting US and UK naval forces.

The second part of the framework includes a rotational element in Australia under the Submarine Rotational Force West intended to begin by 2027. According to the Australian Department of Defense, this will be composed of “a rotational presence … of one UK and up to four US, nuclear-powered submarines” at Fleet Base West.

This is likely to draw in Astute-class and Virginia-class submarines. Again, this adds to a joint and combined campaign, allowing the three allies to synchronize joint capabilities through increased exercises and further cementing persistent forces in between the Strait of Malacca and the IDL.

Forms of deterrence provided by AUKUS

AUKUS, therefore, provides deterrence at multiple levels. The first two are forms of “indirect deterrence,” or factors that strengthen general deterrence at the state level.

  1. AUKUS provides a signal of intent – through that of political alignment – potentially muddying the calculations of a potential aggressor. This is AUKUS as a minilateral grouping, and as architecture rather than as a defense industrial deal.
  2. AUKUS provides indirect deterrence by adding to national strength by adding to the defense industrial base of each member by providing opportunities for industrial cooperation and production. It releases national resources toward shipping industries that may have previously been in decline.

AUKUS has several effects in terms of direct deterrence, too. It is helpful to use the four-point “Seize the Initiative” INDOPACOM approach to divide them:

  1. In its simplest and most direct form, AUKUS contributes to undersea deterrence by providing its members, notably Australia, with new advanced warfighting platforms (the SSNs and their systems).
  2. That these are superior systems, with longer ranges provided by their nuclear propulsion, adds to their impact on potential adversaries’ logistics and planning. As submarines can hide underwater, they are an asymmetrical weapons system, designed to threaten sea lanes and surface shipping, both commercial and military.
  3. Then there are the agreements made in March of this year, such as the two-part pathway that allows for a second direct form of undersea deterrence: that of providing those platforms in a distributed posture across the region. Whether through port visits or a more sustained presence through Submarine Rotational Force West, AUKUS brings more allied forces into the Western Pacific.
  4. Then, finally, there is the deterrent effect produced by Submarine Rotational Force West itself: that of an integrated allied operational force that ideally will operate under a combined command structure.

A potent instrument

As American, Australian, and British submariners train, exercise, and deploy, so will their operational capability and efficacy increase. They will become an integrated force capable of great strategic effect – deterrence – in the Indo-Pacific, a valuable asset for any war planner.

The question whether these six forms of deterrence will deter Xi from ordering PLAN forces to lunge across the Taiwan Strait or from undertaking coercive activity across the First Island Chain is unclear.

While they might not be sufficient– given the time it takes for these systems and structures to come on line – these nascent capabilities will complicate PLAN planning and logistics.

In the future, in any actual kinetic contingency, they will also provide a potent instrument to contain Chinese regional ambitions and military coercion.

John Hemmings is senior director of Indo-Pacific foreign and security policy at the Pacific Forum in Honolulu, which originally published this article. Asia Times is republishing it with permission.

The Biden-Obama Deal is a Total Disaster

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden insists on letting go of Iran’s sanctions imposed from the Trump administration.NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden’s Iran plan is a total disaster

Michael Goodwin

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. The Biden administration is working on a plan that would make the world a far more dangerous place.

March 19, 2022 10:09pm 

It’s a plot with three steps, all terrible and each arguably worse than the previous one. 

Step One is the determination to make a new sweetheart nuclear deal with Iran. There is no good reason, only the fetish to undo everything Donald Trump did.

He wisely scuttled the first bad deal, so President Biden is hellbent on making a new one, and is close to the finish line, meaning Iran could escape sanctions and its oil could hit the world market.

Step Two in the budding disaster is that the White House is letting the butcher of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, broker the talks between America and Iran. As I noted last week, on one hand, Putin is a war criminal raining death and destruction on millions of civilians, and on the other hand, we trust him to make an ironclad deal that blocks the mad mullahs from getting the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.

Oh, and in consideration of Putin’s efforts for world peace, any construction work Russia does in Iran related to the nuke deal would be exempt from sanctions imposed over Ukraine. As Biden would say, no joke.

If this sounds absolutely insane, get a load of Step Three. The Biden bots are actively considering, as a bonus to the mullahs, removing the terrorist designation of their main military group, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Recall that Trump droned the longtime commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American soldiers in Iraq. Soleimani had spread terror in the region for decades, yet Biden said during the 2020 campaign he would not have ordered the hit.

In this file photo taken on September 22, 2018 shows members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) marching during the annual military parade which markins the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in the capital Tehran.
Under the Iran deal, the dangerous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps force will no longer be designated as terrorists.

His objection is probably relevant to the fact that Iran added the demand about removing the terror label. They figured they were pushing on an open door with the appeaser in chief.

For Biden, he’ll likely say yes to the demand for the same reason he wants a whole new deal in the first place: Trump. The former president put the terror designation on the Revolutionary Guards in 2019, a year before he eliminated Soleimani.

Reports say all the group must do is pledge to make nice and stop killing Iran’s enemies across the Middle East and a separate agreement will lift the sanctions blocking its financing, travel, etc., as if it’s the Chamber of Commerce.

The whole notion is so far off the charts that the Jewish News Syndicate reports that Israeli leaders, already unhappy about the prospect of any deal with Iran, initially refused to believe the White House would even consider giving a free pass to the Revolutionary Guards. 

A crowd gathers during commemorations marking the second anniversary of the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (posters), in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, on January 8, 2022.
Iranians still honor Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Cmdr. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis two years after former President Donald Trump ordered their assassinations.

Convinced the proposal is real, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issued a furious statement denouncing the group as “responsible for attacks on American civilians and American forces throughout the Middle East” and said it was “behind plans to assassinate senior American government officials.”

Bennett and Lapid continued: “The IRGC were involved in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians; they destroyed Lebanon and they are brutally oppressing Iranian civilians. They kill Jews because they are Jews, Christians because they are Christians, and Muslims because they refuse to surrender to them.”

Former American diplomats who have advised both Democrats and Republicans in the region agreed the idea stinks. 

Dennis Ross tweeted that the concept “makes us look naive” and, citing the group’s recent rocket attacks in Iraq that nearly struck an American consulate, added: “For the IRGC, which admitted this week to firing rockets into Erbil, to promise to de-escalate regionally is about as credible as Putin saying Russia would not invade Ukraine.”

Iran claimed responsibility for firing ballistic missiles near the US consulate in Erbil, Iraq in response to an Israeli strike on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria.
Iran claimed responsibility for firing ballistic missiles near the US consulate in Erbil, Iraq, in response to an Israeli strike on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria.

Ambassador Martin Indyk tweeted that removing the Guards from the terror list would be seen as a “betrayal” by many US allies who suffered from their brutal terrorism.

Nonetheless, it looks as if Biden wants to give the terrorists a pass in exchange for a vague promise. The White House has said no decision has been reached, which probably means it has but officials won’t defend it publicly until the agreement is signed.

There is one potential roadblock to all the madness, and that is the Senate. Because the entire package is new, Senate approval is required. 

Many people believe it should be considered a formal treaty, which would require two-thirds support. Instead, Democrats are likely to try to use an end run similar to the one they used in 2015 to get the first deal through.

After a GOP-led filibuster effort failed, 58 to 42, the pact was deemed approved through what one critic called “brilliant political subterfuge.” That critic, Eric R. Mandel, director of the Middle East Political Information Network, writes in The Hill: “So, let’s recap: Forty-two senators were able to bind America to an agreement that should have required the votes of 66 senators for a treaty.”

If the Senate lets anything like that happen again, it will prove that Biden’s love of extremely bad ideas is contagious.

At Least Biden Didn’t Abandon Iran Like Obama

On Iran protests, Biden goes faster and farther than Obama

Analysis by Olivier Knox

with research by Caroline Anders

September 23, 2022 at 11:54 a.m. EDT

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 2009, President Barack Obama warned the U.N. General Assembly against “reflexive anti-Americanism.” Said Obama: “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.”

The big idea

On Iran protests, Biden goes faster and farther than Obama

Women’s rights protests spreading like wildfire across Iran have presented President Biden with a familiar conundrum: Whether, how, and how much to support demonstrations in the Islamic Republic. And what to learn from Barack Obama’s reaction to similar unrest in 2009.

Back then, Republicans condemned what they characterized as a milquetoast U.S. response. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wove denunciations of Obama’s caution into his broader criticisms of the incumbent’s management of foreign policy.

But already, the Biden response appears to have gone farther, faster. Senior officials from Biden on down have denounced the government crackdown on the movement, which was sparked by the death in police custody last week of a woman arrested for improperly covering her hair.

‘Morality police’

Mahsa Amini, 22, died Friday after being detained by the so-called “morality police.” Since then, women all over Iran have demonstrated, and videos of many of them cutting their hair or burning the traditional hijab headscarf in protest have raced across social media.

Iran has imposed a near-total Internet blackout, likely an attempt to make it harder for the protesters to organize. Some protesters have reportedly been killed, and hundreds more wounded, in clashes with police and paramilitary forces.

  • “Today, we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” Biden said in his speech on Wednesday to world leaders attending the U.N. General Assembly.

On Thursday, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the morality police, calling them “responsible” for Amini’s death, as well as seven senior Iranian security officials, citing “abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.”

On Friday, the Treasury Department modified U.S. sanctions to let technology companies counter the Iranian government’s Internet lockdown and surveillance.

“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. More steps like this are expected.

Top officials have condemned the crackdown and expressed support for the demonstrators, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan and others. (One person who does not appear to have spoken out yet: Vice President Harris.)

A difference from 13 years ago

The Biden response — expressing support for the protesters in unflinching terms, condemning the government response, imposing sanctions — has outpaced the way the administration in which he served as vice president handled the so-called Green Revolution 13 years ago.

“Quite simply it’s good politics and policy,” Aaron David Miller, who advised administration of both parties on the Middle East for decades, told The Daily 202. “Given the hammering the Administration took politically for not responding aggressively enough to the 2009 protests, it didn’t want to be put in that position again.

Then, the issue was a June 13 election that, authorities declared, had returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. Amid credible allegations of fraud, his rivals’ supporters took to the streets. His supporters staged counter-protests. And the government cracked down on the anti-Ahmadinejad crowds.

  • Obama wasn’t silent, but it wasn’t until June 23 — and after many calls to toughen his rhetoric — that he declared himself “appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments” which he (more importantly) directly and unmistakably tied to Iranian officials.

One recurring concern for Obama had been the degree to which American support might be counterproductive, giving Tehran room to blame demonstrations fed by anger at social repression and a terrible economy on an outside power that, after all, once helped overthrow an Iranian government. 

“It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be,” he said in his first statement, June 15, adding that he wanted “to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.” (Iran’s government still blamed “Western-backed rioters” for the violence.)

My colleague Karen DeYoung reported Wednesday on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi hitting back at Western critics in his general assembly speech.

“Without mentioning the protests, Raisi said Iran ‘rejects the double standards’ of some governments on human rights. In particular, he mentioned Canada’s discovery of the graves of Native children who died in government-mandated schools after being removed from their families, and children who were ‘locked up in cages’ by the United States after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.”

My colleague Kareem Fahim reported last week on Amini’s death and sketched this picture of the division blamed for her demise:

“The headscarf and other conservative dress, known as hijab, have been compulsory for women since Iran’s 1979 revolution. Raisi, a hard line cleric who assumed office last year, has called for strict enforcement of the dress codes. The guidance patrols have become increasingly assertive of late, with their distinctive green-striped vans featured in a series of videos that have gone viral online and provoked anger — including one from last month that appeared to show a detained woman being thrown from a speeding van.”

A new Al-Aqsa provocation is rising outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Al-Aqsa compound
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visiting the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 21, 2023 [Temple Mount Administration/Handout via Reuters]

Not just Israel’s Ben-Gvir: A new Al-Aqsa provocation is rising

The Israeli minister’s visits have deep roots in religious Zionism. But his approach is now finding new takers too.

Itamar Ben-Gvir’s second visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound as Israel’s national security minister on May 21 represents a dangerous mix of religion and politics.

Ben-Gvir was seen standing and reading off his phone, apparently in prayer. Such an act would be forbidden under the current “status quo” governing Al-Aqsa, referred to as the Temple Mount or Har Habayit by Jews, even though a small group of Orthodox Jews is increasingly finding ways to pray on the holy site.

Shortly after his morning visit, Ben-Gvir tweeted: “Hamas’ threats don’t intimidate us. I ascended to Har Habayit! Jerusalem is our soul, the Negev and Galil is our spirit and we have to act on behalf of [both]!”

Responding to Ben-Gvir’s visit, Hamas politician Basem Naim told Al Jazeera, “Israel and its government and people bear the full responsibility for the continued provocation to our people and desecration of [Al-Aqsa’s] holiness.” He said “preventing maniacs [from entering Al-Aqsa] even if they are ministers” was a part of Israel’s “responsibility”.

On the face of it, though Ben-Gvir’s visit was provocative, its timing could suggest a political compromise. He went to Al-Aqsa after the controversial “flag day” march that marks Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. On the day of the march itself, Ben-Gvir joined the parade in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, even though his wife Ayala Ben-Gvir and other members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toured the Al-Aqsa grounds. Within the Al-Aqsa compound, several members of Netanyahu’s Likud party were recorded singing the Israeli national anthem Hatikva with the Dome of the Rock in the background.

Yet Ben-Gvir’s actions on May 21, which were condemned by Jordan, the US State Department and others, are only the latest attempt at pushing the envelope in a centuries-old conflict over what Orthodox Jews discuss as “ascending to the Temple Mount”. And there are early signs that such controversial visits to Al-Aqsa are beginning to resonate with some sections of the Israeli population that previously opposed them.

In the medieval period, there was consensus among Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars about the ancient holiness of the Al-Aqsa site, including the presence of the Jewish temples. In Islam specifically, the special status of the city gave birth to an entire genre of writing known as Fada’il al-Quds or “literature in praise of Jerusalem”. According to Nimrod Luz, the author of the report, Al-Haram al-Sharif in the Arab-Palestinian Public Discourse in Israel, it was even a point of pride for early Muslims for Al-Aqsa to be associated with Israelite prophets and kings such as David, a revered figure in the Quran, and first conqueror of Jerusalem.

For Medieval Jews, who lived under Islamic rule, a debate arose regarding the religious permissibility of visiting the Al-Aqsa compound, given the special commandments in Judaism that safeguard the area’s unique holiness. Contemporary Temple Mount activists are proud to highlight a letter written by the great Egyptian-Jewish sage Maimonides, who describes in the 12th century visiting and praying on Al-Aqsa.

But these discussions were of a religious — not political — nature.

FILE PHOTO 2SEP93- Rabbi Shlomo Goren, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, gives a lecture to a class of Yeshiva students in the Ancient Synagogue in this September 2, 1993 file photo. Goren died October 29 at the age of 77
Rabbi Shlomo Goren gives a lecture to a class of Yeshiva students in this September 2, 1993 photo [Reuters]

In the modern period, Jewish nationalism “split Orthodox Jews into two main groups”, according to Motti Inbari, author of Jewish Fundamentalism and the Temple Mount and professor of Jewish Studies at the University of North Carolina in Pembroke.

The first group was led by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), considered the spiritual father of Religious Zionism. Kook saw the successes of the Zionist movement, such as the Balfour Declaration — under which Britain committed to the creation of a “national home” for Jews in Palestine — from a “messianic point of view”, said Inbari.

That view held that the journey of Jewish “redemption” would culminate with the “reconstruction of the Temple and the renewal of the Davidian Kingdom” per Inbari.

The second camp of Orthodox Jews, explains Inbari, referred to today as “Ultra-Orthodox”, opposed this vision of religious Zionism. They saw “no great [religious] value in the State of Israel” and no special theological meaning to the Zionist movement’s conquest of Palestine”.

Following the Israeli capture of Jerusalem in June 1967, in which an Israeli flag was temporarily flown above the Dome of the Rock, Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of the conquering Israeli forces and a leading religious Zionist, spoke to the Jewish soldiers: “Today you have fulfilled the oath of generations: ‘if I forget thee, o Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning!’ Indeed, we did not forget thee, Jerusalem city of our sanctity and home of our glory.”

The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish response to June 1967 was also rapid and unequivocal, first delivered across Israeli radio waves merely hours after the Old City was captured: Jewish law strictly prohibits entry to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for all Jews owing to the sanctity of the site.

Over the years, this view has been repeated by leading Orthodox Jewish voices and has been the consistent view of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands at the White House in 1993.
Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands at the White House in 1993 upon the signing of the Oslo Accords [File: Reuters]

Still, against the majority of his rabbinic peers in 1967, Goren began developing a novel approach in Orthodox Jewish law to permit entering the Temple Mount.

“[Goren] came up with this argument saying that if we would map the Temple Mount, we could figure out where the Holy of Holies was, and then figure out the permitted locations [for Jews to enter] on the Temple Mount which are not out of bounds,” Inbari said. The “Holy of Holies” refers to the innermost sanctum of each of the Jewish temples, and is the key for drawing a map of where the ancient temples may have stood — many Jewish scholars identify the location of the Holy of Holies with the Sakhra stone in the Dome of the Rock.

Goren was never alone, but his view remained a minority position even within the Religious Zionist camp in the decades following 1967.

But the Oslo Accords of 1993 created a new panic within the Religious Zionist camp. Not only could land compromises lead to the loss of Jerusalem’s Old City from a future Jewish state, but Oslo could represent a theological step backwards in the plan to rebuild a Jewish temple.

“The Oslo Accords, kind of created … some kind of a feeling that [the messianic] end is not going to happen, or it’s not going to happen in the way they were open to,” Inbari said.

The result: an urgency among the Religious Zionists. In February 1996, the orthodox “Rabbinic Council of Yesha” (an acronym for Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip) called for each congregational rabbi to ascend the Temple Mount. The idea was to make it harder for an Israeli government to negotiate away land compromises.

00:29Israel’s Itamar Ben-Gvir calls police ‘landlords’ of Jerusalem

Moving forward

Today, even putting aside the politically explosive visits of Israeli politicians like Ben-Gvir, more and more Jews are ascending the Temple Mount. A recent 2023 report estimates a 16 percent increase from last year, “with an average 140 Jewish visitors ascending” daily.

And it is not just Religious Zionists, though they are the single largest group of Jews going to the Al-Aqsa compound, said Hayim Alba, a member of the non-governmental “Temple Mount Administration”, whose leader Rabbi Shimshon Elboim was photographed walking next to Ben-Gvir during his visit.

“[In] the last week, many buses of [Ultra-Orthodox Jews] entered for the first time. Every day there are some [Ultra-Orthodox] who are entering for the first time,” Alba said.

Yareah Tucker, an adviser to the United Torah Judaism (UTJ), the political party which represents the largest faction of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and is led by a small number of Jewish religious scholars, insists that this is “not because of the rabbis, but because of extremists who are multiplying”. Tucker means that more Ultra-Orthodox Jews are disobeying the official instructions of the leading Rabbis of the Ultra-Orthodox community regarding entry to the Temple Mount, and are rather entering the Temple Mount in spite of their community’s view on Jewish religious law.

Tucker pointed out that Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the current spiritual leader of the largest bloc of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, recently requested UTJ leader and cabinet minister Moshe Gafni to urge Netanyahu to enforce a prohibition of Jews visiting the Temple Mount in general, “specifically in the current sensitive climate”. In the end, Netanyahu strained relations with the right-wing flank of his coalition – including Ben-Gvir – by suspending Jewish access to Al-Aqsa for the last 10 days of Ramadan for the second consecutive year.

Alba agrees that it is not Ultra-Orthodox rabbis leading the way, but that a more grassroots movement within Ultra-Orthodox Jewry is under way. These members of the Ultra-Orthodox community enter mostly for spiritual reasons currently, though it is hard to predict how nationalist sentiments might develop in the future.

Tucker does not believe that there has been any fundamental shift within the Ultra-Orthodox community, but such processes take time. A leader of a Temple Movement who did not agree to be named told Al Jazeera: “The process is under way … the nucleus of 1,000 Ultra-Orthodox Jews exists.”

“In the end, Ultra-Orthodox Jews will be the most strict in this matter.”

Israel Pushed to War Outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

New Anti-Israel Axis Pushes Netanyahu to ‘Brink’ of War


Mel Frykberg

Sat, May 27, 2023 at 9:59 PM MDT·6 min read

Israel fears that a growing anti-Israel alliance in the Middle East is now strong enough to spark an outbreak of war in the region.

Recent months have seen strengthening alliances and unprecedented coordination between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria while Benjamin Netanyahu’s chaotic right-wing coalition struggles to maintain its authority in Israel.

The possibility of a localized war has been exacerbated by recent cross-border clashes between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian military groups in Gaza and in Lebanon as well as clashes with Hezbollah and Iranian proxies across multiple borders.

Assaf Orion, a Brigadier-General in the IDF reserves, told The Daily Beast that “Israel is on the brink and facing the abyss.”

The Israeli military believes that a surge in low-level attacks in response to Israel’s treatment of Muslims and their holy sites demonstrates increasing unity between a range of militant groups. Last month’s rocket attacks launched at Israel by Hamas from southern Lebanon reportedly took place while the commander of Iran’s Quds Force hosted senior officials from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah at Iran’s embassy in Beirut.

This axis of antagonists has rarely cooperated so directly in the past.

Orion, who is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, said that Israel was now engulfed in an unprecedented and perilous situation and these confrontations could escalate into a conflict.

“As more and more proxies have larger arsenals and communicate and coordinate more closely the chances are growing,” he told The Daily Beast. “There is a growing assessment that the theater was on the verge of a large-scale conflagration, including the possibility of its spillover into Israeli territory.”

During the last few months Israel has been involved in several cross-border clashes with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad in Gaza while also carrying out numerous strikes on Iranian militias in Syria.

This month, Islamic Jihad in Gaza shot hundreds of rockets into Israel following the death of Islamic Jihad hunger striker Khader Adnan who was protesting his administrative detention, or detention without trial, in an Israeli jail.

That followed the launches from Lebanon in April, which appeared to be carried out with the support of Iran-backed Hezbollah. Those rockets were fired in response to the brutal invasion of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque by Israeli security forces, during which worshippers were clubbed and beaten up.

“It seems the appetite for low-level skirmishes and challenges is growing because in the last two months we also saw Hezbollah carry out an ED [explosive device] attack in Israel,” said Orion.

Orion told the Daily Beast that Iran was carrying out low-level attacks through its proxies, Hezbollah in the north, Iranian militias based in Syria and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the West Bank by supplying them with weapons and funds.

Another Brigadier-General in the IDF reserves, Udi Dekel, said last month that the recent escalation “demonstrated the convergence of the Palestinian resistance axis, which relies on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with the Iran-Hezbollah axis.”

Nasser Hadian, a professor of political science at Tehran University, told The Daily Beast that Tehran was building up its presence in Syria and Lebanon by beefing up links to these Palestinian groups overseas, in order to create an “effective deterrence belt” around Israel.

“Israel knows that when this belt is completed it will be extremely difficult to attack Iran,” Hadian told The Daily Beast. “The presence in Syria and Lebanon is to a large extent a defensive posture, deterring not only the Israelis but by extension the Americans from taking military action against Iran.”

Why Unite to Attack Israel Now?

The timing of the current wave of attacks is partly related to the current hardline Israeli government and its ability to unite Islamic groups across the region.

Israel’s extremist security minister, Itimar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted of incitement to racism in 2007, has encouraged Israel’s security forces to crack down brutally on Palestinians.

The rockets from Lebanon were fired in response to the attack on Palestinian worshippers in Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine. The sanctity of the mosque is a uniting force for all Muslims in the world and any breach of its sanctity is considered an act of extreme provocation.

“The Israelis should know if they are going to attack Palestinians and continue with the occupation there is going to be retaliation,” said Haidan.

The second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, followed a provocative tour of the same compound in 2000 by then-premier Ariel Sharon while violent invasions by Israeli security forces, including the storming of the mosque in 2021, sparked an 11-day military offensive with Gaza.

Ben-Gvir also exacerbated tensions recently when he joined a provocative march by far-right Israeli extremists through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s old city to mark Jerusalem Day when Israelis celebrate the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Palestinians hope to make Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem the capital of their future state and have accused Israel of Judaizing the city by encouraging illegal Jewish settlement in the city while simultaneously restricting Palestinians from building.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of Palestinian political party National Initiative, told The Daily Beast that they would always respond to Israel’s provocation. “There is only one way to stop the resistance and that’s to end the occupation and end Israel’s system of apartheid,” he said.

The timing of the united attacks on Israel is also a result of Israel’s internal strife which has been viewed as a weakness by the hostile neighbors surrounding the Jewish state.

Months of protests, by Israelis condemning the new extremist government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and proposed changes to the judiciary, have erupted all over the country with Israeli security forces accused of using excessive force in breaking them up.

Israeli military insiders said Hezbollah had decided it could expand its power over Israel by setting new rules of the game on the northern border, while remaining below the threshold of escalation to war, as long as it acted via Palestinian proxies.

Iran is also increasing support for pro-Palestinian proxies after several years of suffering regular Israeli military attacks on Iranian militias in Syria as well as assassinations which have targeted several high-profile Iranian military and nuclear experts.

Iran’s former ambassador to South Africa, Javid Ghorbanoghli, told The Daily Beast that these Israeli attacks were acts of aggression against an independent and sovereign country but he made it clear that Tehran still wanted to avoid a direct conflict with Israel.

“Iran has been patient so far and has not retaliated,” he said. “I think Iran does not want to fall into this trap.”

For now, the fight continues below the radar, but it may only be a matter of time before the low-level attacks spawn a more dangerous and deadly conflict.

Putin ‘plans nuclear radioactive leak to postpone counteroffensive’: Revelation 8

Ukraine-Russia war – latest: Putin ‘plans nuclear radioactive leak to postpone counteroffensive’

Ukraine claims Russia will strike Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to trigger international probe that would pause hostilities

Namita Singh,Tara Cobham

Russia is plotting a “large-scale provocation” at a nuclear power station it occupies in the south-east of Ukraine to disrupt a looming counteroffensive, Kyiv’s military intelligence has said.

A statement from the intelligence directorate of Ukraine‘s Defence Ministry claimed Russian forces will strike the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, and report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give them the respite they need to regroup.

Vestments King Charles III will use at coronation revealed

In order to make that happen, Russia “disrupted the rotation of personnel of the permanent monitoring mission” of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that was scheduled for Saturday, the statement said.

It did not offer evidence to back up any of the claims, while the IAEA said it did not have any immediate comment on the allegations, and Russian officials did not immediately comment.

This comes after Dmitry Medvedev, who is Russia’s security council deputy chairman, alleged the West was “not fully realising” the threat of nuclear war.

Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelensky said at least one person was killed and 15 were injured in a Russian missile strike on a clinic in Dnipro on Friday.

Russia ‘plotting provocation at nuclear power station to delay counteroffensive’

Ukraine‘s military intelligence says Russia is plotting a “large-scale provocation” at a nuclear power station it occupies in the south-east of the country to disrupt a looming counteroffensive.

A statement from the intelligence directorate of Ukraine‘s Defence Ministry claimed Russian forces will strike the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, and report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give them the respite they need to regroup.

In order to make that happen, Russia “disrupted the rotation of personnel of the permanent monitoring mission” of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that was scheduled for Saturday, the statement said.

It did not offer evidence to back up any of the claims.

The IAEA said it did not have any immediate comment on the allegations and Russian officials did not immediately comment on the Ukrainian claims.

The claim mirrors similar statements Moscow regularly makes, alleging without evidence that Kyiv is plotting provocations involving various dangerous weapons or substances in order to then accuse Russia of war crimes.

It comes as Moscow’s military in Ukraine braces for a looming counteroffensive by Kyiv’s forces, which has not started yet but could begin “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week”, the secretary of Ukraine‘s National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told the BBC.

The Zaporizhzhia station is one of the 10 biggest nuclear plants in the world.

It is in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region in south-eastern Ukraine.

The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months but it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Fighting near it repeatedly disrupted power supplies and has fuelled fears of a potential catastrophe like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Ukraine is ready to launch its long-expected counter-offensive against Russian forces and could begin “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week”, according to one of the country’s top security officials.

However, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, told the BBC he would not name a date.

He said the government in Kyiv had “no right to make a mistake” on the decision because this is a “historic opportunity” that “we cannot lose”.

Ukraine struck oil pipeline installations deep inside Russia on Saturday with a series of drone attacks including on a station serving the vast Druzhba oil pipeline that sends Western Siberian crude to Europe, according to Russian media.

Ukrainian drone attacks inside Russia have been growing in intensity in recent weeks, and the New York Times reported that US intelligence believes Ukraine was behind a drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month.

Ukraine has not publicly acknowledged launching attacks against targets inside Russia. The Ukrainian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

In the Tver region, which lies just northwest of Moscow, two drones attacked a station that serves the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline, one of the world’s largest oil pipelines, the Kommersant newspaper said.

The Tver local council said that a drone had crashed near the village of Erokhino, around 500 km (310 miles) from the border with Ukraine.

The Telegram channel Baza, which has good sources among Russia’s security services, said the drones attacked a station serving the Druzhba pipeline.

Druzhba, built by the Soviet Union, has capacity to pump more than 2 million barrels per day (bpd) but has been severely under-utilised after Europe sought to reduce its dependency on Russian energy after President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine last year.

Russia’s oil pipeline operator Transneft said earlier this month that a filling point on Druzhba in a Russian region bordering Ukraine had been attacked.

In the Pskov region of Western Russia, two drones caused an explosion that damaged an oil pipeline’s administrative building, local Governor Mikhail Vedernikov said. The incident occurred near the village of Litvinovo, less than 10 km (6 miles) from Russia’s border with Belarus.

“Provisionally, the building was damaged as a result of an attack by two unmanned aerial vehicles,” Vedernikov said.

He said there were no casualties and that an operational group that would deliver final conclusions was working at the scene.

In a separate incident, a construction worker was killed near the border with Ukraine in the Kursk region due to shelling from Ukraine, the local governor said.

The reported attacks could not immediately be verified.

Ukraine Correctly States Russia is plotting ‘a provocation’ at nuclear plant: Revelation 16

Ukraine claims Russia is plotting ‘a provocation’ at nuclear plant, offers no evidence

By SUSIE BLANN29 minutes ago

Ukrainian soldiers use improvised battle drones

Drone battles near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine continue as the scale of destruction from Russian bombardment on Ukrainian cities becomes clearer. (May 27)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed, without offering evidence, that Russia is plotting a “large-scale provocation” at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the southeast of the country with the aim of disrupting a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive.

A statement released Friday by the intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claimed that Russian forces would strike the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, and then report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give the Russian forces the respite they need to regroup ahead of the counteroffensive.

In order to make that happen, Russia “disrupted the rotation of personnel of the permanent monitoring mission” of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that was scheduled for Saturday, the statement said. It didn’t offer evidence to back up any of the claims.

The IAEA said in an emailed response to the AP that it did not have any immediate comment on the allegations, and Russian officials did not immediately comment on the Ukrainian claims.

The White House said it is watching the situation closely and has seen no indication that radioactive material has been leaked.

The claim mirrors similar statements Moscow regularly makes, alleging without evidence that Kyiv is plotting provocations involving various dangerous weapons or substances in order to then accuse Russia of war crimes.

It comes as Moscow’s military in Ukraine braces for a looming counteroffensive by Kyiv’s forces, which hasn’t started yet but could begin “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told the BBC in an interview Saturday.

The Zaporizhzhia power plant is one of the 10 biggest nuclear plants in the world. It is located in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region in southeastern Ukraine. The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months, but it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Fighting near it repeatedly disrupted power supplies and has fueled fears of a potential catastrophe like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Two drones attacked an administrative building of an oil company in Russia’s western Pskov region that borders Belarus, Latvia and Estonia, Pskov Gov. Mikhail Vedernikov reported Saturday. The building was damaged as the result of an explosion, Vedernikov said.

Another drone went down in the Tver region about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Moscow, local authorities said.

Russia’s Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine on Saturday came under multiple rounds of shelling, killing one person, according to its governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov. In the neighboring Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, one person was killed by cross-border mortar fire, its Gov. Roman Starovoit said.

— The British military said Saturday that Russia’s private military force, Wagner, is withdrawing from areas around the eastern city of Bakhmut that Moscow claims to have captured earlier this month.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin earlier this week announced the pullout, saying Wagner would hand control over the ruined city over to the Russian military. Some were skeptical, however: Prigozhin is known for making unverifiable, headline-grabbing statements on which he later backtracks.

But the British Defense Ministry said in a series of tweets Saturday that Wagner fighters “have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions” around Bakhmut. “The Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister also corroborated the rotation out of Wagner forces in the outskirts of the town,” the ministry said.


Darlene Superville in Washington DC contributed to this story.

The Shia Horns Cooperate: Daniel 8

Iran, Iraq Eye Closer Regional Cooperation

Iran, Iraq Eye Closer Regional Cooperation

  • May, 26, 2023

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Stressing the need to carry out an agreement on security cooperation between Iran and Iraq, the foreign ministers of the two countries weighed plans for stronger regional collaboration.

In a telephone conversation on Thursday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein talked about the latest status of bilateral relations between Tehran and Baghdad.

The two senior diplomats emphasized the necessity for the implementation of a security agreement the two neighbors signed in March.

They also stressed the need to promote regional cooperation between the two countries and to increase the capacity of pipelines that transfer natural gas from Iran to Iraq.

Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian also expressed gratitude to Iraq for facilitating the financial and banking transactions related to the Hajj pilgrimage that Iranian pilgrims make to Saudi Arabia this year.

He finally called for efforts to strengthen banking cooperation between Tehran and Baghdad.

Last month, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid paid an official visit to Iran and weighed plans to enhance the political, economic, trade and cultural cooperation between the two nations.

Stressing the need for efforts to promote the relations in various fields and remove the obstacles to mutual cooperation, Rashid said details have been discussed about ways to improve the infrastructures of the two neighbors.

Lauding the recent agreement on the restoration of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Iraqi president said the rapprochement would contribute to regional security and stability.

The clock is ticking on an apocalyptic showdown with Iran: Revelation 16

Iran missile
A new long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile called Khaibar is unveiled in Tehran with a model of the Dome of the Rock in the background, on May 25. PHOTO BY WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS

Avi Benlolo: The clock is ticking on an apocalyptic showdown with Iran

An all-out war between Iran and Israel will destabilize the region and sink the global economy

Author of the article:

Avi Benlolo

Published May 26, 2023  •  Last updated 1 day ago  •  4 minute read

A confrontation with Iran is coming to a head, but the United States under President Joe Biden may not have the stomach to drop bombs on Iran’s nuclear sites, according to former U.S. ambassador David Friedman, speaking at the May 24 fundraising gala for the Abraham Global Peace Initiative. He believes that a confrontation between Iran and Israel is inevitable, given the precarious situation brewing in the Middle East.

Tensions are mounting. Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, Israel Defence Forces’ chief of general staff, implied this week that if Iran continues to develop its nuclear program, Israel would have little choice but to stage a pre-emptive attack.

Israel’s military doctrine of deterrence and pre-emptive strikes on enemies at its gates is widely known. In 1981, it took out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in a surprise attack. And in 2007, Israel wasted little time obliterating a Syrian reactor that was under construction.

Iran purposefully embarrassed the Biden administration over the Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna by biding its time through relentless negotiations, while shoring up its economic and military prowess. In the meantime, its created an axis of evil by aligning more heavily with Russia, through its supply of weapons for Moscow’s war in Ukraine, and by signing economic and trade agreements with China.

So emboldened is the Iranian regime that in the last couple months, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi flew to Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad and the country signed a deal to re-establish diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.

This week, Iran unveiled a new ballistic missile named Kheibar — a reference to a Jewish fortress that was conquered by Muslims in 628 — that has a 2,000-kilometre range and can easily reach Tel Aviv. In our recent film, “The Future of Israel and its Defenders,” we reveal that Iran already has the capacity to build at least three or four nuclear weapons.

Prof. Chuck Freilich attested that the Iranians may have not had the political inclination do so until now, fearing an Israeli — and possibly an American — response. But the more emboldened Iran becomes, the greater the likelihood that it will arm and possibly deploy nuclear weapons in the region. By mid-2021, experts contend that Iran had already enriched large quantities of uranium to 60 per cent, which is one step below weapons-grade.

A few weeks ago, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned that Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make five nuclear weapons in a matter of weeks. With its new ballistic missile, it has the capability to launch nuclear weapons at Israel.

In 2018, Israel clandestinely stole Iran’s nuclear archive from under its nose. It revealed what most of us already knew: the mullahs were lying to the world about their nuclear aspirations. They said the program was for peaceful purposes, when in fact, the radical Islamists were seeking to shore up Iranian hegemony in the region by creating a nuclear umbrella.

Iran has already spread its terror-producing tentacles in an attempt to surround Israel. Iran has proxies in Lebanon and Syria to the north and is funding Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the south. The Jewish state has had little choice but to relentlessly attack Iranian intelligence facilities and arms depots deep inside Syria, in order to curtail the Iranian presence on its doorstep.

An all-out war between Iran and Israel will destabilize the region and sink the global economy. To make matters worse, since 2021, Iran has either attacked or harassed at least 15 merchant ships in the region, including Israeli-owned vessels. For this reason, the U.S. navy has stepped up efforts to thwart the Iranian presence in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran is also suspected of cyberattacks targeting Israeli shipping and financial firms in recent years. And this week, Gallant revealed that Iran is converting civilian ships into “floating terror bases” armed with missiles, drones and soldiers.

In response to reports that Iran had built underground nuclear facilities that were impervious to bunker-buster bombs, Israel’s national security advisor, Tzachi Hanegbi, warned Iran earlier this week that, “We are sending the message, so is the U.S., that if you cross the red line, the price you will pay as a regime and as a country is one you wouldn’t want to pay, so be careful.”

Threats are flying back and forth. Tension is building while the world is fast asleep or focused elsewhere. At the Abraham Global Peace Initiative, we have recommended stiffer sanctions. We have advised our own government here in Canada to ban the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and add it to Canada’s terror watch list. More pressure from Europe must also be brought to bear on Tehran.

The clock is ticking but it’s not too late. The time to stop Iran is now.

National Post

Avi Benlolo is the founder and chairman of the Abraham Global Peace Initiative.

This could be a nuclear meltdown: Jeremiah

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as seen on the far side of the Dnipro River from Ostriv, has been under Moscow's control since March 2022.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as seen on the far side of the Dnipro River from Ostriv, has been under Moscow’s control since March 2022.LUIS DE VEGA

Life under the shadow of Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia: ‘This could be a second Chernobyl’

Ahead of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, concerns are growing over the safety of the nuclear power plant in Energodar, which was captured by Moscow at the beginning of the invasion. ‘If this explodes, only a shadow of us will remain’


Nikopol – MAY 26, 2023 – 07:04 EDT

Ostriv beach, mid-May 2023. On the shore are several Czech-made hedgehogs installed by the Ukrainian Army. These are anti-tank defenses made of metal bars intended to prevent Russian troops from landing. Next to them stands the dam wall, which is mined for the same purpose. On the other side are children’s swings, exercise bars and wooden benches painted blue and white, as well as an abandoned, flooded trench. Opposite, on the far bank of the Dnipro River, the six nuclear reactors of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, Europe’s largest atomic power generator, tower menacingly. The plant has been under Russian control since March 4, 2022, when it was captured a few days after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine. Olga Muja, a local resident, casts her eye over the water toward them: “If this explodes, there will only be a shadow of us left.”

A sign on the beach announces that bathing is prohibited, but last summer the instruction was not paid much attention. Local residents swam and and basked in the sun, trying to maintain normal lives. But it is hard to forget the war in this village. Distant explosions are heard every now and then. Ostriv lies between the Russian positions and Nikopol and Marhanets in the Dnipropetrovsk region, two cities that have been constantly targeted by the Kremlin’s artillery. The village is located on the attack path toward both municipalities.

“Most people have left here,” says Olga, 66. “We hear gunfire every day, Grad rockets, artillery, and we are very afraid. I don’t understand what this war is about or why they want to kill us.” She says that she has no intention of leaving, that this is her home and that she wants to continue working her garden and taking care of her chickens and her orchard of 100 fruit trees. One of her six sons is fighting on the Bakhmut front. He calls her regularly: “Hi, I’m fine, I’m alive.”

Olga Muja, 66, with a neighbor in the garden of her house in the village of Ostriv.
Olga Muja, 66, with a neighbor in the garden of her house in the village of Ostriv.LUIS DE VEGA

Two of Olga’s neighbors, Raisa Sitnichenko, 76, and Valentina Riabchenko, 73, explain that they receive humanitarian aid once a month, including water and food, but that life here is extremely difficult. Valentina sometimes goes to stay at her son’s house in Marhanets when things get really bad. “These houses are old and we have no shelters,” Raisa adds.

The nearest large town to Ostriv is Nikopol, also opposite the nuclear power plant, which is located in Energodar. The road between the two municipalities is teeming with partridges and, above all, pheasants. As hunting has been banned for over a year because of the war, there are many more birds and they stroll quietly along the roads with their long tails and colorful feathers.

In Nikopol, explosions can be heard again, and the six reactors of the nuclear power plant loom even larger on the far side of the Dnipro. The area is a red zone, as designated by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. A red zone implies that journalists cannot enter without express authorization and must be accompanied at all times by a military officer.

Raisa Stnelcova, 80, and Nadia Suslova, 72, two residents of Nikopol, in the Dnipropetrovsk province.
Raisa Stnelcova, 80, and Nadia Suslova, 72, two residents of Nikopol, in the Dnipropetrovsk province.LUIS DE VEGA

Under martial law, which was imposed in February 2022 when the invasion began, the Ukrainian Army has sweeping powers, even over fundamental rights such as the right to information or freedom of movement. Authorization to enter a red zone may be granted within a few days, or it may not come at all, depending on priorities at that moment. The Bakhmut front is a red zone, based on the logic that the lives of journalists are in extreme danger there and troop movements are classified. Nikopol is a red zone because of its proximity to Energodar and the nuclear plant. From undetermined locations along this stretch of the Dnipro, Ukrainian special forces have probed Russian defenses at the station with swift, small-scale amphibious landings.

Raisa Stnelcova, 80, and Nadia Suslova, 72, walk past a four-story building in Nikopol that was shelled at 2 a.m. on August 11. They live next door. “It really frightened us,” Raisa recalls. “Now, we are attacked every day, several times a day.” They, too, are worried about the proximity of the nuclear power plant. “This could be a second Chernobyl,” says Raisa, referring to the northern Ukrainian town, which was the site of the biggest nuclear disaster in history in 1986, when it was part of the USSR.

The mayor of Energodar before the Russian occupation is confident that the Ukrainian Army’s counteroffensive will be successful and the plant will be recaptured. His name is Dmitro Orlov, he is 37, and he now lives in Zaporizhzhia and holds his office in exile. He speaks to EL PAÍS from a center set up to provide humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of Energodar who fled when the Russians arrived. “There used to be about 53,000 people living there, and now there are about 15,000,″ he says. “Some went overseas, but most of them are in Ukraine waiting for the liberation of the city to return to their homes.”

There used to be about 53,000 people [in Energodar], and now there are about 15,000,″Dmitro Orlov, mayor of Energodar

Dmitro Orlov, the mayor of Energodar, during an interview with EL PAÍS.
Dmitro Orlov, the mayor of Energodar, during an interview with EL PAÍS.LUIS DE VEGA HERNÁNDEZ

The nuclear power plant produces almost no electricity. All six reactors are operating at minimum mode, known as cold shutdown. The neighboring thermoelectric station is also dormant. Before the war, Energodar generated half of Ukraine’s nuclear-powered electricity. “We hope that the counteroffensive will be successful so that the power plant can resume its activities, generate much-needed electricity and the city can return to normal life,” says Orlov.

A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been monitoring the plant’s safety since September last year. The agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi, warned this week that the plant had lost all external electricity for the seventh time during the conflict, forcing it to rely on emergency diesel generators. “[The] nuclear safety situation at the plant [is] extremely vulnerable. We must agree to protect [the] plant now; this situation cannot continue” he wrote on Twitter.

Oleksii Blinechuk worked at the plant until last summer, when he left for Zaporizhzhia with his family. He says the Russians have hired inexperienced managers to run the nuclear station. “These are people who have nothing to do with the energy sector and should not be there,” he states. He still keeps in touch with some of his colleagues who remain at the plant.

Oleksii Blinechuk, a former employee of the Zaporizhzhia plant, says the Russian occupiers are unqualified to manage the center.
Oleksii Blinechuk, a former employee of the Zaporizhzhia plant, says the Russian occupiers are unqualified to manage the center.

The Zaporizhzhia front may be the most decisive of the war, as U.S. and U.K. military intelligence have publicly stressed. The Ukrainian military in the area and defense analysts agree. “Everyone is watching Bakhmut, but what happens here is more important,” Stepan, an officer in the Artey infantry battalion, told this newspaper last February.

A breakthrough on the Zaporizhzhia front would allow Ukrainian troops to advance towards the coast of the Sea of Azov without having to stage a landing on the Dnipro River, which is an extremely complex undertaking, according to military experts. If Kyiv liberates the province, it would also regain control of Energodar and the nuclear plant. The next stage, which would represent a significant victory, would be to reach the city of Melitopol, on the Sea of Azov. From there, Ukrainian forces could cut off supply lines to Russian troops along the coast, toward Kherson, the Black Sea, and Crimea.

If the Ukrainian counteroffensive is staged in Zaporizhzhia, every urban center could be turned into a defensive fortress by Russian troops and the fighting could devastate entire towns, as was the case with the counteroffensives last year in the provinces of Kherson and Kharkiv. But if the Russians maintain their positions around the nuclear power plant, the risk will not be that a village will be razed to the ground, but that millions of people could be affected, only their shadows remaining, as feared by Olga. The question is whether the Kremlin would order its troops to withdraw if they are surrounded, or whether Moscow will continue to play the atomic blackmail card.