Iranian protest ebbs with failure to stage strike. Regime swamps rallies with security forces.
The nationwide strike which the anti-government demonstrators scheduled for Tuesday, Day Six of their protest, failed to come off for lack of an identified leader to get it off the ground. No work stoppages occurred in any of the big or small towns across the country and the markets were as busy as usual. DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources note that the protest movement is running out of steam – also because of its failure to attract the essential support of the most powerful classes of society, the intelligentsia, the middle class, the bazaar merchants and the students. By Tuesday night, therefore, the number of rallies declined by a third and participation by almost a half.
Many of the protesters took fright from the menacing words they heard from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. He accused “foreign intelligence agents” of providing the protesters with “cash, arms and intelligence.” This raised the specter of arrest for treason and collaboration with enemy agents, charges that carry the death sentence. Other regime officials reiterated that anyone caught attacking or setting on fire to government buildings would be executed. This is no idle threat in Iran, which tops world ranks for its prolific and swift executions.
The regime also showed gaining confidence for weathering the upheaval by the way it was handled, DEBKAfile reports. No shooting or violent crackdowns. Instead, after three days, the demonstrators were still free to reach their rallying-points in the town centers, but when they arrived, they met thousands of regime loyalists and police reinforcements waiting there and were often outnumbered.
The regime’s blockage of Internet media had mixed results. Although the Trump administration called on Tehran Tuesday to unblock the favorites, Instagram and Telegram, users had by then found the blockages lifted in many places. This was another sign that the regime was less worried about the outcome of the street dissent than in its early days. DEBKAfile’s sources stress that the protest movement is by no means finished. Attempts will continue to keep up the rallies. They face their next test on Friday, Jan. 5. If the anti-government movement fails to bring masses out to the streets after Friday prayers, it will continue to fade. On Tuesday night, America’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley said a UN Security Council session would be called to discuss the situation in Iran.
Eurasia Group Warns A “Major Geopolitical Crisis” May Be Coming In 2018
Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer says that 2018 is “by far the greatest geopolitical risk environment that we’ve ever seen” and that this could be the year where the international community witnesses the geopolitical equivalent to the financial crisis.
With the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearing 25,000 and the pace of economic growth in the US climbing back above 3%, the economy has seldom been in better shape since the crisis – a fact that President Trump never misses an opportunity to highlight. However, lingering geopolitical tensions that have been simmering for years finally came to a head in 2017. The result? The US is now mired in what Bremmer calls “a geopolitical recession.”
Put simply, this means the decline of US influence in the world will accelerate in 2018, as the US’s mix of soft power and economic and political liberalism faces a crisis of credibility.
Meanwhile, some of the US’s largest geopolitical rivals will seek to claim some of the authority ceded by the “America First” Trump administration, which is opposed to trade deals, supports slashing funding for the United Nations and is virulently anti-immigration.
Which brings us to Eurasia Group’s top risks for 2018…which begins with…
No. 1: China Loves a Vacuum:
Bremmer believes Xi Jinping’s speech at November’s Nineteenth Party Congress will be remembered as one of the most important geopolitical events since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The reason? As the US retreats under Trump, China is setting international standards in more ways than ever before.
This is true in three ways:
Trade and investment. No country today has developed as effective a global trade and investment strategy as Beijing. China is writing checks and creating a global architecture while others are thinking locally or bilaterally. This model generates both interest and imitators, with governments across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and even Latin America tacking more toward Beijing’s policy preferences because the direct transactional consequences have become much more impactful.
Technology. China and the US are leading the charge on investment in new technology—in artificial intelligence (AI), in particular. For the US, leadership comes from the private sector. In China, it comes from the state, which aligns with the country’s most powerful companies and institutions, and works to ensure the population is more in tune with what the state wants. That’s a powerful stabilizing force for the authoritarian and state capitalist Chinese government. Other governments will find the model compelling, especially those most worried about potential social unrest within their borders. And China’s economic clout will align tech sectors within smaller nations with Chinese standards and firms.
Values. The only political value that China exports is the principle of non-interference in other countries’ affairs. That’s attractive for governments that are used to Western demands for political and economic reform in exchange for financial help. With the advent of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and the many distractions for Europe’s leaders, there is no counter to China’s non-values-driven approach to commerce and diplomacy.
But importantly, China is still a regional power when it comes to national security. China has not been a player in the war against terrorism. And US defense spending is far greater than China’s.
But in time, this may begin to change as China’s military becomes increasingly active in the Pacific.
No. 2: Accidents
While the world isn’t on the brink of WWIII, tensions between the US, China, Russia and North Korea remain elevated. The likelihood of geopolitical accidents has risen significantly, a trend that will continue. At some point, there could be a mistake that leads to a confrontation. A few worth thinking about for 2018:
Cyberattacks. The risk of a major cyberattack has risen at a time when international mistrust and the erosion of common norms, standards, and architecture has made it more difficult to coordinate responses to attacks when they occur. That makes the risk of overreaction high, even when reaction is warranted. The threat comes both from states (Russia, China, North Korea) and non-state actors (such as Anonymous); the capacity to wreak havoc is rapidly growing, especially given security vulnerabilities and high-level leaks from within the US National Security Agency. The prospect today of an economy-shaking cyberattack is real— be it via the destruction of a critical piece of infrastructure or through forced transparency that cripples the credibility of a leading corporation, bank, or marketplace; or even a takedown of the internet itself (several states have reportedly probed the resilience of the internet’s backbone infrastructure). If an actor goes after these targets, we’re in uncharted territory. Of all the unexpected geopolitical “accidents” listed here, cyber deserves to be at the top of the list.
North Korea. The world’s most obvious risk of geopolitical accident. An unsatisfactory (and eroding) status quo remains the most likely outcome in 2018. Everyone knows that the US has only unpalatable military options. The North Koreans aren’t suicidal; further North Korean missile tests are likely, but a direct strike on an adversary is nearly inconceivable. Yet, rocket tests over Japanese territory are intrinsically dangerous and could provoke an escalatory response. So too the expanded military exercises and overflight by the North Koreans, Americans, and allies within easy shooting range of one another. Elevated tensions combined with less trust/coordination among all actors means that mistakes, when they occur, are more likely to ignite a conflagration. The possibility of war, which would risk severe damage to a key US ally and impact global supply chains, remains unlikely. But it’s much more thinkable today than it has ever been.
Syria. The war in Syria will continue to wind down in 2018, but there will still be plenty of destructive hardware in the field carried by actors in close proximity who don’t like or trust one another. Russian and US bombers regularly fly into each other’s demarcation zones, and strikes in the wrong place could kill US or Russian troops. US soldiers are embedded with Kurdish forces around Raqqa and other areas east of the Euphrates, and they could become a target for Russia and Iran. It’s the Washington-Tehran relationship that’s most dangerous in Syria. Trump wants Iran out of the country.
Terrorism. Conventional terrorist attacks continue to be far more likely, and dangerous, in the Middle East, North Africa, and South/Southeast Asia than in the developed world. But the end of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria has pushed many foreign fighters back to their homelands, creating increased risk in Europe, and the online sophistication of the Islamic State has facilitated more copycat attacks. A catastrophic attack in the US remains unlikely.
No. 3 Technology
The convergence of AI, big data and high-speed networks will help usher in the next technological revolution. Also, as the epicenter of progress shifts away from Silicon Valley, the race to develop the best and most productive technology could quickly fracture along national lines. It could easily become another arena for the US vs. China dynamic to unfurl.
A race for breakthrough technology is underway between the US and China. Both countries’ tech giants are speeding to master AI and supercomputing among other highly investment-intensive, next generation technologies. The winner could well dominate the coming decades, both economically and geopolitically.
A struggle for market dominance will continue to rage in third-party countries and regions that will have to decide whose products and standards to embrace. Think Africa, India, Brazil, and even Europe. China and the US are engaged in a global competition to be the lead technology supplier for their various international partners. This fight plays out in three areas: civilian infrastructure (from fiber-optic cabling to cloud storage), in consumer goods (putting next generation smartphones in every hand), and in government procurement and security equipment. The latter is of utmost importance, as—just like the traditional arms deals of yesteryear—a linkup between two governments on cybersecurity creates long-lasting technical dependencies that translate into strong political ties.
Read more and watch video at: https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-01-02/eurasia-group-presents-its-top-risks-2018
Trump: Why pay Palestinians billions of dollars for no peace?
US President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday: “It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue… peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
On Dec. 23, DEBKAfile reported that Trump had decided to cut aid to UNWRA, and his administration would no longer receive Palestinian officials. The US forks out around half a billion dollars a year to the Palestinian Authority, including $370m to UNWRA, making it the largest governmental donor. We also reported that the US president is coordinating his steps on the Palestinian issue with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have already cut aid to the Palestinians. It remains to be seen whether the Europeans, Turkey and Jordan will make up the aid shortfall.
A “Bomb Cyclone” Is Set To Detonate Off The East Coast
“This storm developing off the Southeast coast will meet the meteorological criteria of a “bomb” as it rapidly intensifies. The signal for a storm has been evident since last week, but as the track has been fine-tuned, impacts to the I-95 corridor are now expected. Snow, strong winds, and very cold temperatures are expected particularly the further east one heads,” said Ed Vallee, meteorologist at Vallee Weather Consulting LLC.
Winter Storm Grayson, a very large and powerful winter storm is threatening the East Coast of the United States with heavy snow, intense winds, and record-setting low temperatures. Winter storm watches and warnings have been issued for many coastal regions in north Florida to Maine from Wednesday into late Thursday.
This week’s storm may end up being worse than your average nor’easter, according to Bloomberg. It could produce a “bomb cyclone,” otherwise known as a bombogenesis, a phenomenon that occurs when a system’s central pressure drops steeply – 24 millibars or more – in 24 hours. If current computer models hold, that’ll start to happen somewhere off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and continue as the storm moves north. Hurricane-force wind warnings have been posted off the coast where ships could encounter winds of 80 miles (130 kilometers) an hour and waves as high as 26 feet on Thursday.
“The real apex, the peak of the storm, will be Cape Cod to Nova Scotia,” said Gregg Gallina, a forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
Pressure and wind visualization of storm off the coast of New England on Thursday.
This particular storm, which is currently developing off the coast of Florida, will devour enough warm water that it could be considered a winter hurricane by the time it leaves the Mid-Atlantic coast late Wednesday.
The Weather Channel describes how a bombogenesis forms:
To be classified as a weather bomb, or having undergone bombogenesis or “bombing-out”, the central pressure of a low pressure system must drop at least 24 millibars within 24 hours.
Bombogenesis results when there is a large temperature gradient, usually between a cold continental air mass and warm sea-surface temperatures. However, it can also be the product of a cold polar air mass and much warmer air from the south, say, over the Plains states.
Over that temperature contrast, a powerful, intensifying jet-stream disturbance triggers air to rise and kicking off the bombogenesis process.
Frequently, Nor’easters are weather bombs due to cold air surging southward from Canada combined with the warm ocean waters of the Gulf Stream.
“Some computer models are projecting a minimum central air pressure of below 950 millibars at its peak, which would be nearly unheard of for this part of the world outside of a hurricane,” said Mashable’s Andrew Freedman. “For comparison, Hurricane Sandy had a minimum central pressure of about 946 millibars when it made its left hook into New Jersey in 2012.” By Thursday, the European model forecasts the storm to register at 946 millibars off the coast of Long Island, making it a rather intense storm on par with destructive hurricanes.
With the cold air in place ahead of the storm, winter storm watches and warnings have been issued from north Florida to Maine.
On its current track, the storm will scrape the East Coast and dump snow from South Carolina to Maine and into Canada, with Boston and parts of Maine bearing the brunt. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has already declared a state of emergency for 28 counties. The weather stands to wreak havoc on markets for longer, as electricity prices have already surged to the highest level in years and natural gas demand hit a record high.
The Washington Post details the hazardous weather conditions expected to hit the East Coast:
The responsible storm is forecast to begin taking shape off the coast of Florida Wednesday, unloading hazardous snow and ice in highly unusual locations not accustomed to such weather. The National Weather Service has already posted winter storm watches from Lake City, Fla. to Norfolk
It is then expected to rapidly intensify, buffeting the Mid-Atlantic beaches and eastern New England, where winter storm watches have also been issued.
In Charleston, one to three inches of snow and sleet is forecast Wednesday, where the Weather Service warns to “plan on difficult travel conditions.” From Norfolk to the Maryland and Delaware beaches, including much of the southern half of the Delmarva Peninsula, 3 to 6 inches of heavy snow are predicted from Wednesday evening to Thursday afternoon.
The National Weather Service office serving northeast Florida and southeast Georgia cautions that a nasty mix of light freezing rain, light sleet and light snow is expected to develop Wednesday “with significant icing possible.”
Farther inland in the Mid-Atlantic, near Interstate 95, the storm’s exact track will be highly consequential. Current computer models suggest most, if not all, snowfall will occur east of Washington and Baltimore on Wednesday night into early Thursday. But small shifts to the west could bring some snow to these cities.
To the north, Philadelphia and New York have a better chance for a coating of snow, but — unless the storm edges closer to the coast — the more significant snow should remain to their east from Atlantic City to eastern Long Island, where at least four to six inches could fall late Wednesday to late Thursday.
By the time the storm reaches the ocean waters east of Long Island and eastern New England on Thursday, it will be explosively intensifying. The storm’s central pressure will have fallen 55 millibars in just 24 hours — an astonishing rate of intensification.
In Boston, the Weather Service is predicting not only four to seven inches of snow but also winds strong enough to bring down branches. Throughout eastern Massachusetts and eastern Maine, the combination of wind and snow could create blizzard conditions, especially if the storm wobbles west.
There’s a silver lining: The storm will offer some respite from the bone-rattling cold that triggered wind chill advisories and freeze warnings across the central U.S. and winter storm watches from Massachusetts to Florida on Tuesday.
But the relief will only be temporary as the Arctic chill is set to make a comeback by the end of the week. Temperatures will rise out of the teens and single digits from Philadelphia to Boston before slipping back again by Friday and Saturday.
The Weather Channel outlines the Snow potential:
- The best chance for significant accumulating snow along the U.S. coast is in eastern New England. This snow may be heavy and accompanied by strong winds.
- For now, lighter accumulations are expected from the New York City Tri-state area to the Delmarva Peninsula.
- Again, exact amounts will depend on the track of the low in relation to the East Coast.
- Heavy snow, possibly changing to rain in some locations, is likely in parts of Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland) Thursday into Friday.
According to a StormHamster.com meteorologist tracking the trajectory the storm, here are the two scenarios:
- E-MD/E-PA/SE NY
As a result there is going to be a QPF drop out from around Virginia up towards Connecticut. Of course if we shift further west then we shift everything west but there will still be a dropout in that NW corner if you will. Be it DE/NJ/NYC or be it E-MD/E-PA/SE NY. Regardless of precise location of this storm and it’s heavier precipitation contours there has to be a drop out in north and west sections.
This system will become a hurricane force low. It is why you really do not want to see it come west like it has over time. I always felt the chance existed and now unfortunately not only here we are but with the potential to even pull it further west in time. These winds will cause widespread power outages. It has also been a no brainer that Nova Scotia was going to get absolutely smacked by this storm and they are in for it with this one no matter what we get precisely along the eastern US coastline. Unavoidable heavy hit for them.
What happens next could be devastating for the East Coast: “The whole troposphere is coming south and we will not avoid an intense cold snap lasting several days,” said StormHamster.com.
With the potential for power outages and extremely cold weather continuing in the on the East Coast through the weekend. This could be a storm to remember…
Finally, while neither Kim nor Trump has the red button to unleash this particular “bomb”, this is what the “bomb cyclone” will look like at is explodes over the East Coast in the coming days.
“This is only the appetizer – the main meal comes over the weekend,” said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting for Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a Verisk Analytics Inc. business in Lexington, Massachusetts. “This is about as intense a cold as I can remember.”
Meanwhile, meteorologist Paul Walker at AccuWeather said that the storm will probably cause blizzard conditions in New England and eastern Long Island as high winds accompany the snow. And then it gets worse again: Another round of bitterly cold air is forecast to blast across the U.S. by the middle of next week. The chill could linger through Jan. 16.
DHS Announces Program To Illegally Scan American Faces
A study conducted by Georgetown Law’s Center for Privacy and Technology looked at the biometric scanners that are creating an inventory of the faces of individuals leaving the country at airports across the United States. While they are only at certain major airports right now, the full implementation of these scanners could cost Americans up to $1 billion.
The study noted that while the “9/11 Response and Biometric Exit Account” created by Congress has the funds for the program, “neither Congress nor DHS has ever justified the need for the program.”
In addition to the fact that Congress has never provided a reason why the system is needed in the U.S., the study claimed that DHS has “repeatedly questioned ‘the additional value biometric air exit would provide’ compared with the status quo and the ‘overall value and cost of a biometric air exit capability,’ even as it has worked to build it.”
Not only is a government agency pouring $1 billion into a program to increase the country’s security measures even though it lacks full confidence, and has no evidence that the program it is implementing will do so, there is also the fact that the program requires Americans to give up their civil liberties, and it has never been explicitly authorized by the government. As the researchers from Georgetown Law noted:
“DHS’ biometric exit program also stands on shaky legal ground. Congress has repeatedly ordered the collection of biometrics from foreign nationals at the border, but has never clearly authorized the border collection of biometrics from American citizens using face recognition technology.
Without explicit authorization, DHS should not be scanning the faces of Americans as they depart on international flights—but DHS is doing it anyway. DHS also is failing to comply with a federal law requiring it to conduct a rulemaking process to implement the airport face scanning program—a process that DHS has not even started.”
The study also found that the biometric scanners used by DHS are not reliable, and often make mistakes. In fact, “according to DHS’ own data, DHS’ face recognition systems erroneously reject as many as 1 in 25 travelers using valid credentials.” This means that at the country’s busiest airports, more than 1,500 travelers could be wrongfully denied boarding in a single day.
Arizona National Guard Deployed To Cuba To Support Guantanamo Bay
Despite ongoing talk of its closure, Fox News reports that an Arizona Army National Guard unit will begin the New Year in Cuba – deploying to Guantanamo Bay for approximately nine months.
Once there, they’ll be on a joint task force helping to augment staff.
These soldiers leaving for Guantanamo Bay in the coming days in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“There was some discussion some time back about actually shutting it down. Right now that’s not what’s going to happen so it’s still very important for us service members to be prepared to go and continue that mission,” said Arizona Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major Fidel Zamora.
That’s exactly what nearly 50 Arizona Army National Guard soldiers will soon be doing.
“Part of that is being able to inform and advise the Joint Task Force Commander there on military police tasks and procedures and part of that is just making sure that the staff runs effectively on a day to day basis,” said Colonel Rich Baldwin, the Land Component Commander of the Arizona Army National Guard.
This mission is so sensitive we were asked not to show the faces of these soldiers and their families.
“We don’t want to telegraph to the world who is going, who’s there and who’s performing this mission because they all have families that are still back here while they’re overseas doing this mission,” Colonel Baldwin said.
Fox notes that these soldiers won’t have contact with the detainees and they are expected to be deployed for about nine months.