Thursday, December 8, 2016

Russia Tests Nuclear Submarine Drone

BY: Bill Gertz Follow @BillGertz
December 8, 2016 5:00 am
U.S. intelligence agencies detected the test of the unmanned underwater vehicle, code-named Kanyon by the Pentagon, during its launch from a Sarov-class submarine on Nov. 27, said Pentagon officials familiar with reports of the test.
No details were available about the location or results of the test.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis declined to comment. “We closely monitor Russian underwater military developments, but we will not comment specifically about them,” Davis said.
Development of the new drone submarine was first disclosed by the Washington Free Beacon in September 2015 and then confirmed by the Russian military two months later. Russian officials said the secret program was mistakenly disclosed.
Russia calls the drone development program the “Ocean Multipurpose System ‘Status-6.’” The developer is Russia’s TsKB MT Rubin design bureau, the defense industry entity that builds all Russia’s submarines.
The two U.S. nuclear missile submarine bases are located at Kings Bay, Georgia, just north of the Florida border, and Puget Sound in Washington State.
Russia’s nuclear weapons development in recent years has alarmed American military leaders in part due to a new doctrine adopted by Moscow that increases its reliance on nuclear forces in a conflict. The new doctrine indicates that Russia will quickly escalate to the use of nuclear arms to compensate for its aging and outdated conventional forces.
U.S. intelligence agencies also have detected Russia’s development of new low-yield tactical nuclear weapons—arms that could be used more easily in regional conflicts.
Former Pentagon official Mark Schneider said the test of the underwater nuclear delivery vehicle poses a new strategic threat.
“The Status-6, a nuclear powered, nuclear armed drone submarine, is the most irresponsible nuclear weapons program that Putin’s Russia has come up with,” said Schneider, now with the National Institute for Public Policy.
“Status-6 is designed to kill civilians by massive blast and fallout,” he said, noting that such targeting violates the law of armed conflict.
According to a Russian document disclosed on state television Nov. 10, 2015, the weapon is a self-propelled underwater craft capable of carrying a nuclear warhead up to 6,200 miles. The vehicle can submerge to a depth of 3,280 feet and travel at speeds of up to 56 knots.
A drawing of the drone submarine shows it will be nuclear powered, controlled by surface ships, and supported by a Sarov submarine.
Russia’s Sarov has been described in Russian press reports as a diesel electric-powered vessel for testing new weapons and technology. It also has been described as an intelligence-gathering submarine.
The Russian document said Russia planned to build a Kanyon prototype by 2019 and begin testing that year. The Nov. 27 test indicates the document may have been a disinformation operation aimed at deceiving the United States about the program.
U.S. intelligence agencies assessed that the 2015 leak was Moscow’s attempt to warn the United States about its displeasure with U.S. missile defenses in Europe and the deployment of missile defense ships to the region.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters one day after the leak that classified information had been accidentally disclosed—an unusual public admission of a security error that has raised concerns about false Russian strategic messaging.
The Russian nuclear arms buildup has coincided with what U.S. officials say are unprecedented public statements by Russian leader Vladimir Putin about nuclear weapons in response to Western opposition to Moscow’s military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
In addition to the nuclear-tipped drone, Russian nuclear modernization includes a new class of ballistic missile submarines, new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, two new land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and a new long-range bomber. Russia also is building a new railroad-based missile system.
Schneider, the former Pentagon official who has held a number of positions involving strategic weapons, said reports from Russia indicate the drone sub will be armed with a 100-megaton warhead.
“The Russian government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported that to achieve ‘extensive radioactive contamination’ the weapon ‘could envisage using the so-called cobalt bomb, a nuclear weapon designed to produce enhanced amounts of radioactive fallout compared to a regular atomic warhead,'” Schneider said.
“A cobalt bomb is a ‘doomsday’ weapons concept conceived during the Cold War, but apparently never actually developed,” he said.
Testing of the drone, which is said to be powered by a nuclear reactor with limited shielding, poses environmental risks. A guidance failure could result in an undersea nuclear disaster.
“The Obama State Department appears to be asleep at the helm on this issue,” Schneider said, noting the New START arms treaty requires notification of new offensive strategic weapons in a U.S.-Russia commission.
“We could even propose a ban on such weapons,” Schneider said. “There is no indication from the Obama administration that any negotiations are underway, or that the U.S. has even raised the issue with Russia.”
During congressional testimony in December 2015, Rose Gottemoeller, then the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the Russian nuclear-armed drone is a concern.
“I know we are concerned about it; of course we are concerned about it as a threat to the United States,” said Gottemoeller, now NATO’s deputy secretary general. She noted that the system would pose a great threat if “widely put into operation.”
The Obama administration, however, took no action against Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Retired Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, former commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, has said development of the underwater nuclear strike vehicle is one element of a “troubling” Russian strategic nuclear buildup.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House subcommittee on strategic forces, has said that the Russians assert the nuclear drone submarine will be used to target coastal areas and inflict “unacceptable damage to a country’s territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”
“What does it say about a country that feels that nuclear weapons are such a significant tool of its military and diplomatic strategy that it discloses systems in this manner?” Rogers asked during a House hearing. “And what does this say about a country that would invest resources in such a weapon? This is just nuts.”
Pavel Podvig, a Russian nuclear forces watcher, stated two years ago that the Status-6 payload “looks like a massive dirty bomb,”—a nuclear device that kills with radiation as opposed to a combination of a nuclear blast and radiation.
“A number of people noted that the description does not necessarily exclude the possibility that the initial ‘damaging’ can be done by a regular nuclear device,” Podvig said. “Which only makes this whole thing even more insane—do they think that a nuclear weapon on its own would not inflict ‘unacceptable damage’?” he said.

The Increasing Risk of Nuclear War (Revelation 15)

'Russia is biggest NUKE threat' Air Force chief warns
The military bigwig said that Russia still poses the biggest threat to the United States – despite President-elect Donald Trump apparently looking to build bridges with the superpower.
Deborah James made the comment at the annual Reagan Defense Forum this weekend.
"We have a number of threats that we’re dealing with, but Russia could be, because of the nuclear aspect, an existential threat to the United States."
She then referenced a number incidents involving "very dangerous airmanship" by Russian planes.
The warning is bound to increase fears of a global nuclear war following a period of international calm between Russia and the US following Trump's election.
Her comments were backed up by the head of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, and Pentagon chief arms buyer Frank Kendall.
Both added they were alarmed by what they called increasing Russian aggressiveness.
Admiral Richardson said one of the main causes for concern was the growing naval presence of Russia globally.
The US military has previously raised fears of an apocalyptic war with Russia.

Iran warns of retaliation if Trump breaches nuclear dea

Iran warns of retaliation if USA breaches nuclear deal - Khamenei website 
Donald Trump could erase Obama's legacy almost as soon as he takes office Khamenei, for his part, said earlier this year that if Trump scraps the deal, "we will set fire to it".
That fear is shared by the deal's critics.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank in Washington, was an early supporter of the "stop the Iran nuclear deal" campaign and pressed members of Congress previous year to block it. While it remains critical of what it sees as a unsafe and flawed agreement, it now opposes rescinding it.
The only step Obama should take, the GOP leaders said, is renewing the Iran Sanctions Act.
On August 15, 2015, Obama said that the US would uphold "sanctions targeting Iran's support for groups such as Hizballah, its destabilizing role in Yemen, its backing of the Assad regime, its missile program, and its human rights abuses at home". The means are outlined in Article 37 of the JCPOA and in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which explain how the snapback measures work.
He wrote: "A new American president with a firm stance will have a major impact on politics inside Iran".
In exchange, the global community pledged to lift economic sanctions. One of these deals concerned the nuclear agency's inspection of the Parchin military facility, where the Iranians were suspected of testing nuclear components. Britain's ambassador is "using the opportunity to develop our relationship with Iran", he said.
What worries the deal's supporters is that the new commander in chief will take an even more aggressive posture and undo with his own hands what he has called a "lopsided" agreement.
A comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear programme was inked in July 2015, bringing to an end a 12-year standoff that had threatened to trigger a new war in the Middle East, and potentially marking the beginning of a new era in relations between Iran and the west. "I don't think he will tear it up, and I don't think that's the way to start", said Corker, rumored to be in the running for secretary of state.
The agreement, which officially took effect in January, has released hundreds of millions of dollars in impounded Iranian funds and spurred a rush of European business interest in Iran trade and investment deals, generating momentum that would be hard to reverse.
In mid-January, the sanctions on Tehran were removed after the International Atomic Energy Agency verified Iran's compliance with the deal.
They've also, Phillips notes, been caught trying to covertly buy illicit dual-use nuclear technology in Germany, which violates Iran's commitments under the nuclear deal to obtain global approval for all nuclear purchases. If the USA withdraws from the agreement, it would effectively cancel both Boeing and Airbus's deal and possibly renew US sanctioning of Iranian banks.
In September previous year, the two countries exchanged ambassadors. "I think the bigger danger is not so much about specifics, but if Trump's administration does a 180 with this global commitment, I think it will be very destabilizing to the region and that relationship". He said it might be time to undo the whole deal if signatory countries can opt out at will. Michael Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who was appointed as Trump's National Security Advisor, has strongly come out against it.
During the campaign appearance last March before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Donald J. Trump described the Iran nuclear deal as "terrible", and used as an example, the Obama administration's bad negotiating skills.
The renewed push the official explained was due to Iranians who support the deal, like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, telling the U.S. that Iranian hardliners may attempt to kill the deal unless its benefits become more apparent within Iran.
A USA withdrawal from the agreement will present Iran with a conundrum.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Fear of Nuclear Terrorism (Revelation 15)


VIENNA: “Nuclear terrorists” can strike anywhere, the head of the UN atomic watchdog warned on Monday at the start of a week-long ministerial conference on preventing misuse of radioactive materials and attacks on facilities.
“Ensuring effective nuclear security is important for all countries, including those which possess little or no nuclear or other radioactive material,” Inter­national Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said.
Terrorists and criminals will try to exploit any vulnerability in the global nuclear security system. Any country, in any part of the world, could find itself used as a transit point. And any country could become the target of an attack,” he said in Vienna.
Countries all over the world have stepped up their investment in nuclear security with support from the IAEA, and have been working to reinforce staffing levels with more than 10,000 police, border guards and other specialists trained in the past six years, Amano said.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2016

Antichrist Works On His Martyred Father's Shrine (Revelation 13:11)

matyr_ayatollah_baqir_al_sadr_by_tabarsi-d605vn3AhlulBayt News Agency - ABNA - Shia News
Under direct supervision by Iraqi cleric Sayed Muqtada Al-Sadr, the work on the shrine of Shahid Mohamed Al-Sadr and his sons continues, to improve the place into a more fitting shrine, as the Muqtada Al-Sadr took some of the work by his own hands.
Iraq's Al-Sadr confirmed, the continued work on the pure wali shrine to recognize the obstacles, and developing the administrative side.

Preparing For The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

Preparing for the Great New York Earthquake
by Mike MullerShare
New York Quakes
New York Quakes Fault lines and known temblors in the New York City region between 1677-2004. The nuclear power plant at Indian Point is indicated by a Pe.
Most New Yorkers probably view the idea of a major earthquake hitting New York City as a plot device for a second-rate disaster movie. In a city where people worry about so much — stock market crashes, flooding, a terrorist attack — earthquakes, at least, do not have to be on the agenda.
A recent report by leading seismologists associated with Columbia University, though, may change that. The report concludes a serious quake is likely to hit the area.
The implication of this finding has yet to be examined. Although earthquakes are uncommon in the area relative to other parts of the world like California and Japan, the size and density of New York City puts it at a higher risk of damage. The type of earthquake most likely to occur here would mean that even a fairly small event could have a big impact.
The issue with earthquakes in this region is that they tend to be shallow and close to the surface,” explains Leonardo Seeber, a coauthor of the report. “That means objects at the surface are closer to the source. And that means even small earthquakes can be damaging.”
The past two decades have seen an increase in discussions about how to deal with earthquakes here. The most recent debate has revolved around the Indian Point nuclear power plant, in Buchanan, N.Y., a 30-mile drive north of the Bronx, and whether its nuclear reactors could withstand an earthquake. Closer to home, the city adopted new codes for its buildings even before the Lamont report, and the Port Authority and other agencies have retrofitted some buildings. Is this enough or does more need to be done? On the other hand, is the risk of an earthquake remote enough that public resources would be better spent addressing more immediate — and more likely — concerns?

Assessing the Risk

The report by scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University at summarizes decades of information on earthquakes in the area gleaned from a network of seismic instruments, studies of earthquakes from previous centuries through archival material like newspaper accounts and examination of fault lines.
The city can expect a magnitude 5 quake, which is strong enough to cause damage, once every 100 years, according to the report. (Magnitude is a measure of the energy released at the source of an earthquake.) The scientists also calculate that a magnitude 6, which is 10 times larger, has a 7 percent chance of happening once every 50 years and a magnitude 7 quake, 100 times larger, a 1.5 percent chance. Nobody knows the last time New York experienced quakes as large as a 6 or 7, although if once occurred it must have taken place before 1677, since geologists have reviewed data as far back as that year.
The last magnitude 5 earthquake in New York City hit in 1884, and it occurred off the coast of Rockaway Beach. Similar earthquakes occurred in 1737 and 1783.
By the time of the 1884 quake, New York was already a world class city, according to Kenneth Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City.”In Manhattan,” Jackson said, “New York would have been characterized by very dense development. There was very little grass.”
A number of 8 to 10 story buildings graced the city, and “in world terms, that’s enormous,” according to Jackson. The city already boasted the world’s most extensive transportation network, with trolleys, elevated trains and the Brooklyn Bridge, and the best water system in the country. Thomas Edison had opened the Pearl Street power plant two years earlier.
All of this infrastructure withstood the quake fairly well. A number of chimneys crumbled and windows broke, but not much other damage occurred. Indeed, the New York Times reported that people on the Brooklyn Bridge could not tell the rumble was caused by anything more than the cable car that ran along the span.

Risks at Indian Point

As dense as the city was then though, New York has grown up and out in the 124 years since. Also, today’s metropolis poses some hazards few, if any people imagined in 1884.
In one of their major findings, the Lamont scientists identified a new fault line less than a mile from Indian Point. That is in addition to the already identified Ramapo fault a couple of miles from the plant. This is seen as significant because earthquakes occur at faults and are the most powerful near them.
This does not represent the first time people have raised concerns about earthquakes near Indian Point. A couple of years after the licenses were approved for Indian Point 2 in 1973 and Indian Point 3 in 1975, the state appealed to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Appeal Panel over seismic issues. The appeal was dismissed in 1976, but Michael Farrar, one of three members on the panel, dissented from his colleagues.
He thought the commission had not required the plant to be able to withstand the vibration that could occur during an earthquake. “I believe that an effort should be made to ascertain the maximum effective acceleration in some other, rational, manner,” Farrar wrote in his dissenting opinion. (Acceleration measures how quickly ground shaking speeds up.)
Con Edison, the plants’ operator at the time, agreed to set up seismic monitoring instruments in the area and develop geologic surveys. The Lamont study was able to locate the new fault line as a result of those instruments.
Ironically, though, while scientists can use the data to issue reports — the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot use it to determine whether the plant should have its license renewed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission only considers the threat of earthquakes or terrorism during initial licensing hearings and does not revisit the issue during relicensing.
Lynn Sykes, lead author of the Lamont report who was also involved in the Indian Point licensing hearings, disputes that policy. The new information, he said, should be considered — “especially when considering a 20 year license renewal.”
The state agrees. Last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began reaching out to other attorneys general to help convince the commission to include these risks during the hearings.
Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered a 312-page petition to the commission that included reasons why earthquakes posed a risk to the power plants. The petition raised three major concerns regarding Indian Point:
  • The seismic analysis for Indian Point plants 2 and 3 did not consider decommissioned Indian Point 1. The state is worried that something could fall from that plant and damage the others.
  • The plant operators have not updated the facilities to address 20 years of new seismic data in the area.
  • The state contends that Entergy, the plant’s operator, has not been forthcoming. “It is not possible to verify either what improvements have been made to [Indian Point] or even to determine what improvements applicant alleges have been implemented,” the petition stated.
A spokesperson for Entergy told the New York Times that the plants are safe from earthquakes and are designed to withstand a magnitude 6 quake.
Lamont’s Sykes thinks the spokesperson must have been mistaken. “He seems to have confused the magnitude scale with intensity scale,” Sykes suggests. He points out that the plants are designed to withstand an event on the intensity scale of VII, which equals a magnitude of 5 or slightly higher in the region. (Intensity measures the effects on people and structures.) A magnitude 6 quake, in Sykes opinion, would indeed cause damage to the plant.
The two reactors at Indian Point generate about 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Since that power is sent out into a grid, it isn’t known how much the plant provides for New York City. Any abrupt closing of the plant — either because of damage or a withdrawal of the operating license — would require an “unprecedented level of cooperation among government leaders and agencies,” to replace its capacity, according to a 2006 report by the National Academies’ National Research Council, a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress.
Indian Point Nuclear Plant
Indian Point Nuclear Plant
Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear power plant north of New York City, lies within two miles of the Ramapo Seismic Zone.
Beyond the loss of electricity, activists worry about possible threats to human health and safety from any earthquake at Indian Point. Some local officials have raised concerns that radioactive elements at the plant, such as tritium and strontium, could leak through fractures in bedrock and into the Hudson River. An earthquake could create larger fractures and, so they worry, greater leaks.
In 2007, an earthquake hit the area surrounding Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world’s largest. The International Atomic Energy Agency determined “there was no significant damage to the parts of the plant important to safety,” from the quake. According to the agency, “The four reactors in operation at the time in the seven-unit complex shut down safely and there was a very small radioactive release well below public health and environmental safety limits.” The plant, however, remains closed.

Shaking the Streets

A quake near Indian Point would clearly have repercussions for New York City. But what if an earthquake hit one of the five boroughs?
In 2003, public and private officials, under the banner of the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation, released a study of what would happen if a quake hit the metropolitan area today. Much of the report focused on building damage in Manhattan. It used the location of the 1884 quake, off the coast of Rockaway Beach, as its modern muse.
If a quake so serious that it is expected to occur once every 2,500 years took place off Rockaway, the consortium estimated it would cause $11.5 billion in damage to buildings in Manhattan. About half of that would result from damage to residential buildings. Even a moderate magnitude 5 earthquake would create an estimated 88,000 tons of debris (10,000 truckloads), which is 136 times the garbage cleared in Manhattan on an average day, they found.
The report does not estimate possible death and injury for New York City alone. But it said that, in the tri-state area as a whole, a magnitude 5 quake could result in a couple of dozen deaths, and a magnitude 7 would kill more than 6,500 people.
Ultimately, the consortium decided retrofitting all of the city’s buildings to prepare them for an earthquake would be “impractical and economically unrealistic,” and stressed the importance of identifying the most vulnerable areas of the city.
Unreinforced brick buildings, which are the most common type of building in Manhattan, are the most vulnerable to earthquakes because they do not absorb motion as well as more flexible wood and steel buildings. Structures built on soft soil are more also prone to risk since it amplifies ground shaking and has the potential to liquefy during a quake.
This makes the Upper East Side the most vulnerable area of Manhattan, according to the consortium report. Because of the soil type, the ground there during a magnitude 7 quake would shake at twice the acceleration of that in the Financial District. Chinatown faces considerable greater risk for the same reasons.
The city’s Office of Emergency Management agency does offer safety tips for earthquakes. It advises people to identify safe places in their homes, where they can stay until the shaking stops, The agency recommends hiding under heavy furniture and away from windows and other objects that could fall.
A special unit called New York Task Force 1 is trained to find victims trapped in rubble. The Office of Emergency Management holds annual training events for the unit.
The Buildings Department created its first seismic code in 1995. More recently, the city and state have adopted the International Building Code (which ironically is a national standard) and all its earthquake standards. The “international” code requires that buildings be prepared for the 2,500-year worst-case scenario.

Transportation Disruptions

With the state’s adoption of stricter codes in 2003, the Port Authority went back and assessed its facilities that were built before the adoption of the code, including bridges, bus terminals and the approaches to its tunnels. The authority decided it did not have to replace any of this and that retrofitting it could be done at a reasonable cost.
The authority first focused on the approaches to bridges and tunnels because they are rigid and cannot sway with the earth’s movement. It is upgrading the approaches to the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel so they will be prepared for a worst-case scenario. The approaches to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street are being prepared to withstand two thirds of a worst-case scenario.
The terminal itself was retrofitted in 2007. Fifteen 80-foot tall supports were added to the outside of the structure.
A number of the city’s bridges could be easily retrofitted as well “in an economical and practical manner,” according to a study of three bridges by the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. Those bridges include the 102nd Street Bridge in Queens, and the 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges, which span the Harlem River. To upgrade the 155th Street Viaduct, the city will strengthen its foundation and strengthen its steel columns and floor beams.
The city plans upgrades for the viaduct and the Madison Avenue bridge in 2010. The 2008 10-year capital strategy for the city includes $596 million for the seismic retrofitting of the four East River bridges, which is planned to begin in 2013. But that commitment has fluctuated over the years. In 2004, it was $833 million.
For its part, New York City Transit generally is not considering retrofitting its above ground or underground structures, according to a report presented at the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2004. New facilities, like the Second Avenue Subway and the Fulton Transit Center will be built to new, tougher standards.
Underground infrastructure, such as subway tunnels, electricity systems and sewers are generally safer from earthquakes than above ground facilities. But secondary effects from quakes, like falling debris and liquefied soil, could damage these structures.
Age and location — as with buildings — also add to vulnerability. “This stuff was laid years ago,” said Rae Zimmerman, professor of planning and public administration at New York University. “A lot of our transit infrastructure and water pipes are not flexible and a lot of the city is on sandy soil.” Most of Lower Manhattan, for example, is made up of such soil.
She also stresses the need for redundancy, where if one pipe or track went down, there would be another way to go. “The subway is beautiful in that respect,” she said. “During 9/11, they were able to avoid broken tracks.”

Setting Priorities

“On the policy side, earthquakes are a low priority,” said Guy Nordenson, a civil engineer who was a major proponent of the city’s original seismic code, “and I think that’s a good thing.” He believes there are more important risks, such as dealing with the effects of climate change.
“There are many hazards, and any of these hazards can be as devastating, if not more so, than earthquakes,” agreed Mohamed Ettouney, who was also involved in writing the 1995 seismic code.
In fact, a recent field called multi-hazard engineering has emerged. It looks at the most efficient and economical way to prepare for hazards rather than preparing for all at once or addressing one hazard after the other. For example, while addressing one danger (say terrorism) identified as a priority, it makes sense to consider other threats that the government could prepare for at the same time (like earthquakes).
Scientists from Lamont-Doherty are also not urging anybody to rush to action in panic. Their report is meant to be a first step in a process that lays out potential hazards from earthquakes so that governments and businesses can make informed decisions about how to reduce risk.
“We now have a 300-year catalog of earthquakes that has been well calibrated” to estimate their size and location, said Sykes. “We also now have a 34-year study of data culled from Lamont’s network of seismic instruments.”
“Earthquake risk is not the highest priority in New York City, nor is dog-poop free sidewalks,” Seeber recently commented. But, he added, both deserve appropriately rational responses.

Iran's Hegemony in the Middle East (Daniel 8:4)

Iranian Deterrence Strategy and Use of Proxies
Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin, and the distinguished committee members: Thank you for inviting me to testify at today’s hearing on Iran’s support for terrorism and proxies. I will focus my comments on how that support fits into Iran’s strategic priorities and how US policy can best counter it.
Please note that while this testimony constitutes my own research and analysis, it draws as well on discussions conducted as part of a working group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The working group aims to analyze potential opportunities to deter Iran in the post-JCPOA environment. The final results of its deliberations will be published in February 2017.
The Role of Proxies in Iranian Deterrence Strategy
Few states in the modern era, if any, have placed the development and sustainment of proxy forces more central in their defensive strategies as has the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Assessing the role these groups play in Iran’s deterrence strategy—and the direction IRI strategies will take in the future—requires understanding the reasons why Tehran placed such emphasis on building foreign forces to defend its security and project its influence in the years after 1979.
The executor of Iranian proxy policies, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was created by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini first to secure the revolution at home and then export the revolution abroad. As an amalgam of existing paramilitary groups and neophyte recruits consciously separate from Iran’s traditional imperial armed forces (the Artesh), the IRGC had no distinct military traditions, doctrines, or strategic frameworks beyond ensuring Khomeini’s new political order must survive and flourish. The organization’s motto from the Quran “prepare against them what you can” captures both the pragmatic ethos that drove the IRGC’s structure and missions and the fundamentally reactive nature of the force to the threats and opportunities faced in the early 1980s, namely the risk to the new regime from the United States and Iraq and the chance to confront Israel in Lebanon.
Proxies quickly became central in each of these confrontations.[1] The limitations of the IRGC and the Artesh’s ability to project military power drove the IRGC’s need for proxies to conduct unconventional warfare abroad. The IRGC worked with Iraqi Kurdish militants and formed the Badr Corps from opposition Shia Iraqi groups to help fight Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. When Khomeini decided against a direct Iranian intervention in Lebanon to combat the invading Israelis and their Western allies, the IRGC crafted Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) from existing local Shia militias.[2] The corps’ Quds Force (QF) branch oversaw the expanding foreign network, the so-called axis of resistance.
Tehran also found these groups to be well-suited as vehicles for the promulgation of IRI ideological and political influence. Direct coercion or forced revolutionary conversion of its neighbors, Soviet-style, is neither feasible nor politically palatable for the anti-imperialist-minded Iranian leadership. Instead, proxies in places such as Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq could slowly subvert and co-opt state institutions while attempting to create a more authentic appearing movement toward Iranian ideology and influence from below. In places like the Arab Gulf states, this process has been less successful, and true Iranian proxies do not yet exist. However, the fear Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have of infiltration by IRGC agents or cells, and the prospect of IRGC-led terrorism campaigns, assassinations, or general unrest, does provide a significant psychological or even deterrent effect.
Iran does not initially create proxies with the intention of using them as a deterrent force. Rather, this mission is adopted as proxy capabilities strengthen and become existentially important to Iran. This deterrence via proxy exists in two layers. The first is retaliatory deterrence, the ability to instill fear of significant casualties, destruction of critical infrastructure, or economic disruption to dissuade Tehran’s conventionally more powerful enemies from taking direct military action against Iran or its interests. This draws from what Khamenei and Iranian military leaders describe as the IRI’s “threat in response to threat” doctrine.[3] Proxies also give the IRGC a degree of plausible deniability, which can help Iran manage potential escalation after any retaliatory actions. Since Iran cannot strike the US homeland conventionally the way the United States can strike the Iranian homeland with near impunity, Tehran seeks ways to balance the deterrence equation by threatening US interests worldwide through proxy terrorism and asymmetric operations.[4] The IRI similarly hopes to keep Israel at bay through the threat of terrorism and asymmetric war from Lebanese Hezbollah. While the IRGC is employing its existing proxies and building new ones to fight ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra on the front lines, the militias are also already playing a role in deterring these Sunni extremist groups from assaulting deeper into Shia or Alawite territories in Iraq or Syria.
The second layer of passive deterrence is more latent and designed to deter foreign involvement in states such as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon that are already in Iran’s sphere of influence. The IRGC has helped mobilize large paramilitary groups such as the National Defense Forces (NDF) in Syria and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, not only to conduct unconventional war against Damascus’ and Baghdad’s enemies but also to solidify its influence in each states’ security apparatus and dissuade any military or political efforts by outside powers to pull these states out of Tehran’s orbit. Iran’s direction of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) similarly threaten the counter-Islamic State coalition currently operating in Iraq and dissuade reestablishment of a long-term US military presence in the country.
Current Capabilities and Future Trajectory
The IRI has significantly expanded the size and complexity of its proxy force in the past five years, due primarily to the wars in Syria and Iraq. This includes not only the growth of the primary groups that form the axis of resistance such as Lebanese Hezbollah, Badr Corps, KH, and AAH, but also the establishment of new Shia militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and the mobilization of Iraqi and Syrian civilians into the PMF and NDF respectively. The proliferation and permutation of smaller Iranian-backed proxies in Iraq and Syria can be extremely challenging to discern, although almost all can trace their formation and ultimate command back to one of those four principle groups, with the QF one echelon above.
The IRI continues to invest in training and arming its proxies and partners with increasingly advanced equipment, with its most trusted groups receiving the best weaponry. Lebanese Hezbollah has acquired unmanned aerial vehicles and an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 rockets and missiles through Iranian assistance, including advanced air-to-ground and ground-to-sea missiles.[5] The IRI’s Iraqi proxies employed the QFs’ signature improvised explosive device, the explosively formed projectiles against coalition forces in the last decade.[6] Yemen’s al Houthis, in contrast, have received mostly small arms from Hezbollah or the IRGC, although there are indications the movement has gained some Iranian rocket technology.[7]
Perhaps more important than weapons are the tremendous strides the IRGC has made in the past five years advancing their proxies’ deployability, interoperability, and capacity to conduct unconventional warfare. The corps has effectively moved its Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani proxies into and out of the Syrian theater as requirements demand. In addition to building the NDF and coordinating with Lebanese Hezbollah, Russian, and Syrian government operations, the IRGC, along with some Artesh special forces units, has also begun rotating cadre of its brigade-level officers to Syria to train and lead the Shia militias in their counterinsurgency campaign.[8]
The IRI is in effect turning the axis of resistance into a region-wide resistance army.[9] Recent estimates indicate more than a quarter million personnel are potentially responsive to IRGC direction,[10] including:
Lebanese Hezbollah: 45,000 fighters, of which 21,000 are full time, and 6,000 to 8,000 are currently deployed to Syria[11]
Palestinian Islamic Jihad: at most 1,000 personnel focused on targeting Israel[12]
Badr Corps Brigades: between 10,000 and 20,000 fighters[13]
Kata’ib Hezbollah: likely a core group of around 1,000 fighters,[14] with 10,000 or more mobilized through its main subsidiary Saraya al-Difaa al-Shaabi and 1,000 to 3,000 likely deployed to Syria
Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq: approximately 10,000 fighters, and 1,000 to 3,000 likely deployed to Syria[15]
Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigade: 2,000 to 3,000 thousand fighters deployed to Syria, but total numbers for the group are unknown[16]
Pakistani Zainabiyoun Brigade: up to 1,000 fighters deployed to Syria, but total numbers for the group are unknown[17]
Syrian National Defense Force: approximately 100,000 mobilized Syrian fighters[18]
Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces: approximately 100,000 fighters, of which 80,000 are considered to be part of Iranian supported groups[19]
The challenges Iran faces from the Islamic State, other Sunni extremist groups, and allied state instability have driven the shift to larger scale mobilization of proxy and partner groups in the past three years, although notably there appears to be little parallel impetus to create cyber proxy groups.[20] A degree of success in the current wars in Syria and Iraq will likely lead the governments in Damascus and Baghdad to officially demobilize some of these militia forces, especially those deemed less proficient or which possess more tentative relationships with the IRGC. However, these forces will still represent a latent deterrent capability for Tehran. Those groups that profess vilayet e faqih, and are thus considered part of the Islamic Resistance, will largely remain a standing force under Iranian guidance. These groups will likely deepen their integration into their respective states’ political and security infrastructure. The IRGC proxy “army” in Iraq and Syria will be in a strong position to threaten or deter Iran’s adversaries if some form of victory is achieved in their civil and counterterrorism wars.
IRI proxy groups are considered part of the axis of resistance, which the Iranian leadership views as an ideological and security extension of the Islamic Republic. These organizations proclaim their ultimate religious and political allegiance to the supreme leader and owe most of their financial and material support to the QF. However, unlike other tools used for deterrence, Iran does not fully control this weapon. Working with partially autonomous actors can pose a liability at times for Iranian leaders, especially in times of crisis when rapid decisions are needed. Despite these operational weaknesses, there is political value for proxies to demonstrate their relative independence and make their support to IRI policy appear more grassroots and voluntary.
These dynamics are also reflected in the IRI’s command and control over its proxies, which tend to be tailored based on the relative levels of trust and experience. The IRGC, through the QF, gives strategic guidance to most other proxies, under the supreme leader’s broad orders. Lebanese Hezbollah is fairly self-directed. QF delegates much of the day-to-day operational command of its Iraqi proxies to the Badr Organization. In Syria, the relative infancy of most of the proxies requires direct control by the rotating cadre units of the IRGC. The campaigns in Iraq and Syria are now creating deep ties among QF, IRGC, and even some elements of Artesh.
As a revolutionary state facing stronger military opponents that threaten the very nature of the state, the IRI sees warfare in 360 degrees, where domestic and foreign battlefronts frequently blend. Many of the roles and missions proxies perform abroad to expand IRI ideology and influence while opposing Iran’s enemies are also executed by the IRGC and Basij paramilitary forces to secure the IRI’s internal stability. Training and doctrine development among the IRGC, Basij, LH, and other proxies, such as for counterinsurgency operations, are increasingly integrated, the latest example being the role the Basij is taking in shaping the Syrian NDF.
The ideological and religious mission of Iranian proxies brings them in close contact with Iran’s clerical establishment, as the IRI proselytizes its version of Shia Islamic thought. Proxies also provide a means for Iran to seeks and funnel money for religious or political donations throughout the Shiite diaspora. Lebanese Hezbollah, in particular, has developed its own financial system through Lebanese banking institutions and the black market, which the IRGC uses to bypass international sanctions and facilitate its worldwide operations. However, Iranian civilian political leaders have little to no influence over these groups.
Implications for the Region and US Interests
As long as the IRI lacks the conventional military power to match the United States or Israel, the IRGC will continue building and sustaining proxies to pressure Tel Aviv, threaten the US homeland, and level the deterrence equation. The QF usually works in partnership with Lebanese Hezbollah to create new operational capacities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The wars in Syria and Iraq, though, have apparently dampened some of the IRI’s ability to create new networks. However, if the current Middle East conflicts subside, anticipate a renewed emphasis on growing the IRI’s global proxy reach.
Once a proxy’s role in Iranian deterrence strategy is solidified, preserving that group becomes an existential matter for the state. Ensuring LH, the crown jewel in the axis of resistance, can still deter Israel is the most vital reason Tehran must protect the group, even more so than the role LH plays in shaping the Lebanese state and expanding Iranian influence. This is why the Iranian military has gone to, and will continue to go to, enormous lengths to maintain its access to Hezbollah through Syria.
It is crucial to differentiate between the IRI’s true proxies and groups that are best described as Iranian partners. The key distinguisher is whether an organization adheres to the Iranian revolutionary governance ideology of vileyat e faqih, or guardianship of the jurisprudent, and recognizes the Iranian supreme leader as its ultimate religious and political authority. Groups that do not acknowledge that authority—such as the Promise Day Brigade and other forces that follow the nationalist Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, the al Houthi rebels in Yemen, and even Sunni militant organizations such as Hamas—can still enjoy significant support from Iran and cooperate with Tehran’s foreign policies. However, the IRI cannot depend on these organizations to form the front lines of retaliatory deterrence against its adversaries, or even to consistently execute the Iranian leadership’s directives. Moreover, even the true proxies at times act more like partners, as local or national considerations may temporally trump Tehran’s needs.
The IRGC’s new resistance army poses a huge threat to internal stability in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and potentially an external challenge to Israel, Jordan, and the GCC states. Additionally, the IRI will still use the threat of terrorism or domestic instability inside the GCC as a useful tool to restrain Riyadh and to hold US regional military bases at some risk. The QF will continue to support organizations such as Yemen’s al Houthis and some Bahraini Shia opposition groups to the degree that it can. However, it is doubtful that Iran can create true proxy forces in Yemen or Bahrain on the scale of those created in Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon. Keeping the Gulf Arab states off balance is likely the IRGC’s primary objective on the Arabian Peninsula in the near term.
Policy Recommendations
As long as the IRI sees the United States as a threat to its existence, it will seek deterrence through proxies, unconventional weapons, or whatever feasible means it can support. However, the United States can take steps to mitigate the deterrent effect of Iran’s proxies. Four principles in such an approach include:
Expose and Demystify. Much of the deterrent effect of Iranian proxies stems from the impact of their fear-instilling and clandestine nature. The IRI bemoans the “Iranophobia” among the Gulf Arabs, but Iran benefits from the belief there is an Iranian element behind every internal and external threat the GCC states face. Greater efforts by the US Treasury and State Department to name and shame Iranian backed groups, front companies, and their financial activities could erode the psychological foundation of Tehran’s deterrence strength.
Contain and Push back. The United States can conduct relatively effective counterterrorism operations to trim QF and its proxies. Despite their sophistication, Iran’s proxy organizations have a much more detectable signature than true non-state actors such as the Islamic State or al Qaeda. The US capacity to contain and push back on these organizations is limited not by a lack of operational and tactical options, but rather by a lack of political will to confront Iran.
Divide and Undermine. The IRGC and its proxies’ heavy-handed behavior frequently stoke nationalist resentment in areas where they operate. These sentiments can be exploited through information operations and diplomatic activities to create a greater degree of separation between Tehran and its proxies. Reenergizing efforts to strengthen national military and police forces can prevent Iranian proxies and militias from becoming a permanent third army in places such as Iraq.
Stem and Shape. Preventing the IRGC from turning groups it supports into full proxies, and therefore eventual tools of Iranian deterrence, is crucial. For example, US and Saudi interdiction activities, in addition to difficult geography, hamper closer cooperation between the IRGC and the al Houthis. Reinforcing these efforts can prevent the opposition group from becoming an actual Iranian proxy. The United States should also focus where it can, such as in Yemen and Iraq, on supporting the development of national and local forces that can provide both legitimacy and security to minimize the space the IRGC can exploit within the state for building proxies under its control.
Efforts to counter proxies’ deterrent effects need to account for the other reasons Iran supports these organizations: to conduct the IRI’s unconventional warfare campaigns and to spread its political, ideological, and security influence. However, the United States will not be able to alter the IRI’s logic for supporting such groups in general and the logic for using proxies for deterrence specifically, without fundamental changes in Tehran’s threat perception from its more conventionally powerful foes, the United States and Israel, or real ideological change in the leadership.