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Monday, March 4, 2019

What's going on in the World Today 190304



The Navy plans to test its new electronic warfare drones this fall

The Dash X is a foldable Class II UAV - manufactured by VX Aerospace - that can loiter on targets for over 10 hours and carry electronic warfare payloads. (VX Aerospace)
Complex electronic warfare (EW) platforms - such as the U.S. Navy’s EA-18G Growler - could soon release swarms of drones from the aircraft, allowing the smaller vehicles to fly ahead to scout out for radar and other battlefield emitters, and potentially even take part in electronic attack missions themselves by jamming enemy sensor networks.

The concept is part of a project the U.S. Navy is working on with Northrop Grumman known as Remedy.

As part of the program, a small Class II unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) - developed by North Carolina-based VX Aerospace – would be packed into a cluster munition canister that would then eject from a “mothership” and fly a programmed route ahead of stand-off jammers and strike aircraft.

The small drones - outfitted with various payloads including electronic support measures (ESM) or electronic attack jammers - would integrate a datalink to send information back to manned aircraft for either immediate tactical use or intelligence planning for later missions. The small UAVs, which are difficult to detect, owing to their size and slow speed, would get “up close and personal” to radar systems allowing them to perform novel jamming techniques, and even infiltrate command networks to perform cyberattacks.

“It gives me more ‘attack surfaces’ to get at the enemy radar,” said John Thompson, Northrop Grumman’s director of business development for airborne C4ISR. “And because I'm so close, I can now hear more details or hear signals that previously vehicles that were further away couldn't receive simply because of the physics...”

The Dash X is a foldable Class II UAV - manufactured by VX Aerospace - that can loiter on targets for over 10 hours and carry electronic warfare payloads. (VX Aerospace)

Northrop Grumman envisages its Remedy concept will utilise the Dash X in a wing-mounted container that will be released from a Super Hornet or Growler. (Northrop Grumman)

Huey Replacement Life Cycle Estimate $18.5B, USAF Says

The U.S. Air Force has revealed its life cycle cost estimate—$18.5 billion—for the new helicopters to guard nuclear missile sites and transport VIPs around the nation’s capital, taking over the job from the aging Bell UH-1N.

The service submitted a pre-Milestone C report to Congress last month that detailed a program acquisition unit cost of $39.2 million and average procurement unit cost of $30.3 million for the Huey Replacement program. The Jan. 14 report is signed by Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. Aerospace DAILY viewed a copy of the document.

The Air Force anticipates the Huey replacement program will hit milestone C in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2021; begin operational test and evaluation in the first quarter of fiscal 2022; reach initial operational capability in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023; and enter full-rate production in the second quarter of fiscal 2023, the document says.

The service awarded a $375 million firm-fixed-price contract to Boeing for up to 84 Huey replacement helicopters. This is the first installment of the $2.38 billion that the Air Force will spend on the effort. The service’s original cost estimate was $4 billion for the program.

“Strong competition drove down costs for the program, resulting in $1.7 billion in savings to the taxpayer,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said at the time of the award.

The contract was awarded months late because Sikorsky filed a pre-award bid protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the Air Force’s data requirements for the Huey replacement. In May, GAO dismissed Sikorsky’s protest.

There were three competitors: Boeing with the MH-139; Sikorsky with the HH-60U; and Sierra Nevada Corp. with refurbished UH-60Ls. The MH-139 is a missionized version of the Leonardo AW139. Leonardo produces civil versions in Italy, Russia and also Philadelphia, where the MH-130 will be assembled.

The Air Force initially wanted to buy former UH-60As that would be refurbished and upgraded. It then considered purchasing new M-model Black Hawks in a sole-source contract from Sikorsky as part of the U.S. Army’s multiyear contract. Under pressure from Congress, the Air Force decided to conduct a full and open competition.


AFRICOM Adds Logistics Hub in West Africa, Hinting at an Enduring US Presence

From Ghana’s capital, a new supply network will ferry supplies and arms to special forces troops across the region.

U.S. Africa Command plans to begin routing flights to Accra, Ghana, as the hub of a new logistics network to ferry supplies and weapons to the patches of U.S. troops operating across the continent’s increasingly turbulent western region.

A C-17 cargo plane is scheduled to touch down at Kotoka International Airport later this month, inaugurating what is expected to become a weekly flight from AFRICOM’s home base in Europe to the port capital. The United States has access to warehouse space in Accra — part of a defense-cooperation agreement struck with the Ghanaians in May — and from there will send the aggregated cargo out on smaller planes and trucks to the approximately 1,800 U.S. troops dispersed across 17 to 20 locations in West Africa.

It’s “basically a bus route,” said Brig. Gen. Leonard J. Kosinski, who runs logistics at AFRICOM, carrying arms, ammunition, food, and other supplies to special forces troops.

But it’s a bus route that traverses a baker’s dozen of nations that together cover roughly the area of the continental United States, epitomizing “the tyranny of distance,” Kosinski said.

At first, the flights will be U.S. military cargo planes supporting American personnel. But after the first year, AFRICOM hopes that African contractors, European allies, and partner nations will plug into the network. It’s a simple concept, but one that the command hopes will ultimately help build not only a more efficient and consistent supply network across the region but also bolster the capacity of local governments to manage their own counterterrorism and crisis response operations...

The Fight Against Jihadists Is Shifting to Africa


- As the United States and its partners dial down operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and contemplate a withdrawal from Afghanistan, the focus of global jihadist activity will shift to Africa.

- Because external powers do not have the same interests in Africa as they do in the Middle East, counterterrorism operations there will likely draw in different actors who could fight at a different intensity.

- While the United States will likely maintain its pressure on al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa, other theaters such as the Sahel and Sahara will likely witness more counterterrorism operations from countries like France.

- The suppression of jihadist groups in the Middle East may, in turn, make African theaters a more appealing destination for foreign fighters and financiers.

When 9/11 kicked off the global war on terrorism, the main focus of counterterrorism efforts was al Qaeda-linked groups operating in the Middle East and South Asia. Close to two decades later, the United States and its allies are still involved in efforts to suppress al Qaeda and its offspring in Iraq and Afghanistan — albeit perhaps not for much longer. After an exhausting effort, the United States is signaling a shift elsewhere as the Islamic State (which rose from the ashes of al Qaeda in Iraq) has suffered a comprehensive reverse, while Washington has sat down for talks with the Taliban as a precursor to a possible withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan over the next several years....


Are India and Pakistan on the Verge of a Water War?

In reprisal for a deadly terrorist attack in Kashmir, the Indian government says it will divert river waters that downstream Pakistan has been counting on.

With tensions rising between India and Pakistan in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack earlier this month that killed more than 40 Indian police officers in Kashmir, New Delhi has decided to retaliate in part by cutting off some river water that flows downstream to Pakistan. The decision to build a dam on the Ravi River, whose waters are allocated to India by treaty but a portion of which had been allowed to flow through to Pakistan, adds an extra source of conflict between two nuclear-armed neighbors that have repeatedly clashed over the disputed Kashmir territory.

To understand the issue better, Foreign Policy spoke with Sunil Amrith, a professor of South Asian studies at Harvard University and the author of Unruly Waters, a look at how water shapes South Asia’s history, politics, and economic development.

Sunil Amrith: It probably is, at least in the suddenness, the arbitrariness, and the brutality with which it emerged. In Asia, many of the other transnational water conflicts were slower to escalate—for example, it wasn’t until the 1980s that neighboring states had the capacity or the ambition to dam and divert the upper reaches of the Himalayan rivers. In terms of the numbers of countries and interests at stake, the Mekong is perhaps the ur-transnational water conflict in Asia, but in the sense of a conflict that was created with the stroke of a pen, the conflict over the Indus delta is quite distinctive.

FP: From the vagaries of the monsoon and famines in the colonial period to the development and dam-building boom in the Jawaharlal Nehru years, how central is control of water to India’s concept of nationhood, especially under Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

SA: The control of water has long been central to many visions of freedom and nationhood in India; that is one of the key arguments in Unruly Waters. This goes back to at least the late 19th century, when a diverse group of Indian nationalists, British water engineers, and administrators began to see irrigation as India’s salvation. The dam-building boom of the Nehru years epitomized the ambitions of a proud post-colonial state and its planned conquest over the vagaries of nature and climate. Nehru famously called large dams the “temples of the new India.”

Under Modi, the control of water has continued to be of symbolic value. The government has also committed itself to the gigantic river-linking project, at an estimated cost of at least $90 billion. But none of this started with Modi. I think in terms of their approach to water management, there is a long thread of continuity across the past several Indian governments.

FP: In this case, India seems to be exercising its legitimate claim to the waters in the Ravi. Do you see this escalating, to the point that India starts to infringe on Pakistan’s allocated waters in the western rivers or even abandons the Indus Water Treaty altogether? What happens if it does?

SA: The World Bank-brokered IWT of 1960 is a paradox: It is touted by many scholars of international relations as an example of successful cooperation between hostile states, and at the same time it’s a frequent target of complaints from politicians on both sides of the border.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been in the grip of almost daily anti-India protests and rolling curfews sparked by the killing on July 8 of a popular rebel leader, Burhan Wani, in a gunfight with government forces. The number of civilians killed since protests erupted in Kashmir hit 68 August 27, while a police constable was also shot dead.

As New Delhi and Islamabad trade nuclear threats and deadly attacks, a brewing war over shared water resources threatens to turn up the violence.

Following the failure to broker a deal where India and Pakistan would manage the water resources of the basin collectively, the Indus Treaty sought to legislate their division: The waters of the Sutlej, the Beas, and the Ravi were awarded to India; and the west Indus, the Jhelum, and the Chenab to Pakistan.

In practice, a significant quantity of water flowed into Pakistan even after India’s extraction of what water it needed from the eastern rivers. But this is now in question, as India has vowed to impound more water from the Ravi River. Interestingly, one factor that stopped India doing this earlier was internal conflict over the river’s use between the Indian states it flows through. We must always remember that conflicts over water in South Asia are intra-national at least as much as they are international. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.

There have been periodic calls in India for a unilateral withdrawal from the Indus Treaty, a threat that was issued last in 2016. So far, this has not led to action, and things have settled back into an uneasy coexistence. I would like to think that both sides have too much to lose from the unraveling of these delicate arrangements for the brinkmanship to be pushed too far. But given the global slide to unilateralism and the heightened tension the region, there is always the possibility of strident rhetoric provoking a conflict over water, a conflict in which the real losers will be local people on both sides of the border.

FP: Pakistan is a seriously water-stressed nation already. How serious are the implications for Pakistan of diversions of water flow?

SA: Pakistan is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. One recent estimate suggests that Pakistan will face a shortage of 31 million acre-feet of water by 2025. [Pakistan uses about 104 million acre feet every year for agricultural irrigation.] Its underground aquifers are critically depleted from the over-extraction of groundwater, and the two largest dams—the Tarbela and the Mangla—have seen a decline in their storage capacity due to excessive deposits of silt. As such, any diminution in water flow will have serious consequences for the livelihoods of Pakistan’s farmers, who have already faced, over the past few years, a dearth of fresh water during the critical season—just before the monsoon, when the summer crop is planted...


Mexico’s Old-School War on Crime Gets a Surprising New Champion
Why is AMLO attempting to further militarize policing, instead of pursuing the progressive reforms he promised during his campaign?

On the campaign trail in 2018, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, promised a radically different strategy to tackle the country’s long-standing problem with violent crime. Running on a progressive platform with the slogan “becarios sí, sicarios no” (“yes to scholarships, no to hitmen”), the leftist politician better known as AMLO vowed to withdraw the military from regions wracked by drug violence and focus on education, social programs, and job creation to help young people avoid falling into the hands of criminal organizations.

A fresh approach is badly needed. In 2017, Mexico experienced its most violent year in terms of absolute number of homicides for two decades, a figure that spiked again in 2018 with over 34,000 killings. With police forces poorly paid, underequipped, and widely viewed as corrupt, the solution for recent governments has been to deploy the military to combat the country’s heavily armed drug cartels. For many, López Obrador’s campaign vision represented a genuine change in policy and perspective. But three months into his term, that vision has largely failed to materialize.

“Officially, the war is over,” the president, who took office in December 2018 following a landslide election victory last July, announced in a press conference Jan. 30. “We want peace, and we’re going to get peace.”

Yet just one day later, the National Regeneration Movement leader emulated his predecessors by dispatching Army and Navy troops to Tijuana, the border city across from San Diego, where gang wars—reportedly over control of local crystal meth sales—saw the city’s homicide rate reach a historic high last year with 2,518 murders.

López Obrador also disappointed many sympathizers by proposing legislation to ramp up the militarization of Mexico’s crime-fighting forces even further. Days after taking office, he submitted a bill to Congress to create a new militarized police force called the National Guard, which human rights groups and security analysts warned could set a dangerous precedent in terms of the constitutional powers granted to the country’s armed forces. “Communities that have been greatly affected by violence in Tijuana often see police as perpetrators of violence and instruments of criminal groups.”

Mexico’s war on crime is far from over. And while López Obrador’s proposed constitutional reform was blocked by the senate Feb. 21, the path to police reform and safety for civilians remains fraught with obstacles.

A decade ago, the city of Tijuana was one of the principal battlegrounds for Mexico’s cartels. Not only did the bodies pile up, but they were also hung from public bridges on busy thoroughfares as gangs sought to outdo each other in spectacular acts of brutality. Tourism dried up rapidly. The local economy was shattered. In 2007, then-President Felipe Calderón of the center-right National Action Party controversially deployed Army and Navy troops, along with heavily armed federal police, to reel in the gangs.

With this policy, Calderón instigated the current incarnation of the country’s so-called drug war, involving unprecedented numbers of federal troops and military involvement, a policy that continued under his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto of the center-left Institutional Revolutionary Party. Yet with only 6.8 percent of crimes, from car theft to murder, reported to authorities, Mexico’s real war has always been against impunity, the inability of criminal justice institutions to protect citizens and uphold the law, a legacy of decades of authoritarian rule and institutional decay.

“The position of Tijuana along the U.S.-Mexico border makes it a valuable asset for criminal groups, which include drug trafficking groups, but also those involved with human smuggling and human trafficking,” Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, a researcher at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego, told Foreign Policy. “While it is difficult to establish what groups operate where, we do know the criminal actors have changed in the last decade.

“Communities that have been greatly affected by violence in Tijuana often see police as perpetrators of violence and instruments of criminal groups,” she added, citing research that shows citizens are increasingly unwilling to report crimes to the police.

Despite the Mexican public generally possessing more confidence in the armed forces, the role the military plays in supplanting police in areas of Mexico affected by cartel violence has always been contentious. While officially, the Army and Navy face constitutional restrictions to their powers and only act in a supporting role to civilian law enforcement, they have also been accused of widespread human rights violations. In one high-profile instance, the 2014 Tlatlaya case, soldiers were charged with murdering 22 people, several unarmed...


What Does the End of the INF Treaty Mean for Europe?


- Though the INF Treaty has collapsed, the stipulations of another arms treaty, New START, are likely to prevent Russia from altering its nuclear posture toward Europe much in the near future.

- However, the continued erosion of arms control treaties, especially New START, could result in nuclear proliferation in Europe.

- Countries in Western Europe are likely to balk at the increased deployment of nuclear-armed U.S. missiles in their countries, but NATO members in Eastern Europe could be more amenable due to their greater fears of the Russian threat.

The Cold War ended in Europe almost three decades ago, but many on the Continent are none too happy about the end to one of the last vestiges of that battle, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union (and, subsequently, its Russian successor) imposed limits on the destructive nuclear strength that Moscow could train on Europe's NATO members, as well as the force with which the West could threaten Russia. But now that the United States has suspended the treaty, proliferation — as well as more instability in Europe — might be on the cards again.

The Big Picture

On Feb. 1, the United States formally suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty after accusing Russia of violating the treaty by developing missiles with longer ranges than permitted by the treaty. In so doing, Washington — which is likely to completely withdraw from the deal — has delivered a significant blow to the framework to maintain control over strategic arms. The INF Treaty's looming demise comes amid the erosion of a series of Cold War-era arms treaties, due in part to technological developments and the great strides made by countries like China.

A Treaty for Europe

The INF Treaty was a bilateral commitment between the United States and Russia to limit ground-based missiles possessing a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers — a range that put all of Europe in peril but which posed no credible threat to either the United States or any of Russia east of the Urals. (That, by contrast, was the preserve of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.) The concern over this class of missiles first raised the alarm in Europe in the late 1970s, when Russia developed new nuclear missiles, the SS-20s, that governments perceived as a much greater threat to the nuclear balance in comparison to their less-capable predecessors. Moreover, the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) treaty, which imposed limits on the number of ICBMs that either the United States or Russia could maintain, did not cover the SS-20s. As a result, these intermediate-range missiles posed an additional nuclear threat almost exclusively to Europe — in addition to the ICBM force that Russia could deploy against both the United States and Europe. Europe's concerns, voiced in particular by West Germany, forced NATO into a dual strategy of increasing the deployment of U.S. intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles in Europe as a deterrent and, at the same time, offering the Soviet Union a treaty to mutually limit the deployment of such weapon systems. The latter element of this strategy eventually led to the INF Treaty in 1987.

This map shows the ranges of missiles before the implementation of the INF Treaty in 1987....

Caught in the Middle, Europe Attempts to Balance Hostile U.S.-Iranian Relations


- Despite the United States' pleas for Europe to follow suit and withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Continent will continue to ensure Iran stays within the framework.

- Although Washington has a laundry list of issues when it comes to Iran, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East remains the European Union's biggest concern.
In an attempt to balance U.S. demands, however, Brussels will subtly increase pressure on Iran in areas outside of the country's nuclear program — namely, activities related to terrorism financing and Tehran's ballistic missile program.
- This is a non-commital strategy, though, and will ultimately fail to appease either side, leaving Europe in an even tighter spot between Washington and Tehran.

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Since then, the European Union and the three European powers that also signed the deal — France, the United Kingdom and Germany (known as the E3 bloc) — have scrambled to keep it alive, simultaneously facing mounting pressure from the United States to penalize Iran for its regional behavior. Unlike Washington, however, Europe's primary concern remains nuclear proliferation, meaning Brussels has largely resisted using sanctions to penalize Iran for anything outside of its nuclear program — that is, until now.

Caught between the United States and Iran, Europe's collective strategy in recent months — though not entirely consistent — has been to strike a delicate balance: Increasing pressure on Iran to appease the United States, while also trying to keep Iran in the JCPOA. But by trying to please everyone, Brussels risks pleasing no one. Europe's hesitance to commit fully to either side will likely fall short for Tehran and Washington alike...

Familiar Issues Cloud the Prospects for Afghan Peace


- Because Washington is seeking to exit Afghanistan — one of the Taliban's main demands — their talks will proceed, but various other outstanding issues will impede greater progress.

- Pakistan, the Taliban's primary external sponsor, will push the movement to remain in talks with the aim of ensuring that any U.S. withdrawal proceeds in an orderly manner. The collapse of the Afghan state would threaten Islamabad's economic and security interests.

- Even though the talks might not soon produce a breakthrough, yet regional powers like Iran, India, China and Russia will all prepare for the ramifications of a U.S. withdrawal.

After 17 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States is finally sitting down for talks with the militant group it overthrew in 2001. A U.S. delegation headed by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad gathered with Taliban leaders, including senior Taliban official Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Doha on Feb. 25 for the start of a fifth round of negotiations to end Afghanistan's long war. For the moment, the sides are focusing on five issues: the withdrawal of the 14,000 U.S. and 8,000 allied coalition troops in the country, a cease-fire, a Taliban pledge to prevent the Islamic State's Khorasan Province or al Qaeda from using Afghanistan to launch attacks, the possibility that the militant group could eventually sit down with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's administration, and the Taliban's demand that the U.N. Security Council lift sanctions against them.

An immediate breakthrough in talks to end decades of conflict might not be in the offing, but the possibility of a U.S. military withdrawal will ensure that capitals from Moscow to Tehran and New Delhi to Beijing all have contingency plans in place to deal with the possible security vacuum that a coalition troop pullout would create in Afghanistan. In the end, Washington and the Taliban might be talking, but peace in Afghanistan remains distant, particularly as the Taliban have made it abundantly clear they have no intention of talking to Ghani until the United States — the entity it views as its principal antagonist in the conflict — finally departs...

Qatar says Taliban political chief will lead U.S.-Taliban talks in Doha this week

DOHA (Reuters) - The latest round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban will begin in Doha this week and include Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Qatar said on Sunday, despite earlier reports suggesting his absence.

The talks are expected to center around a ceasefire to end America’s longest war and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and are expected begin on Feb. 25, according to diplomatic sources.

U.S. officials have been keen to negotiate with Baradar, hoping the Taliban’s co-founder and military veteran would add momentum and have the clout to discuss tough issues surrounding the end of the 17-year war...




Exclusive: Iran buys Indian sugar for first time in five years to overcome U.S. sanctions

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian traders will export raw sugar to Iran for March and April delivery, five trade sources said, the first Indian sugar sales to Tehran in at least five years as Iran struggles to secure food supplies under sanctions imposed by the United States.

Under the sanctions, Iran is blocked from the global financial system, including using U.S. dollars to transact its oil sales. Iran agreed to sell oil to India in exchange for rupees but it can only use those rupees to buy Indian goods, mainly items it cannot produce enough of domestically.

Trading houses have contracted to export 150,000 tonnes of raw sugar for shipments arriving in March and April at $305 to $310 per ton on a free-on-board basis, the trade sources told Reuters this week.

“Oil payments have piled up in UCO Bank. Iran is keen to utilize the payments to buy sugar and other food items,” said one of the sources, a Mumbai-based dealer with a global agricultural trading firm, who asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media.

Iran’s state buyer, the Government Trading Corporation (GTC), purchased the sugar to ensure ample supplies in the coming months, said a second source, a Mumbai-based exporter. Iran usually buys sugar from Brazil, the world’s biggest producer and exporter of the sweetener.

Iran could import as much as 400,000 tonnes of raw sugar from India in 2019 as its local production is not enough to fulfill the demand, he said...

Iran Is Committing Suicide by Dehydration

The Islamic Republic’s corruption is draining the country of its most precious resource: water.

For more than a year, since December 2017, protests and civil disobedience have been a fixture of life in Iran. Many of the political and economic grievances fueling this unrest will be familiar to foreign observers. But one major reason for these disturbances has gone overlooked: the country’s dire water shortages.

One cause of this water crisis is changing weather patterns. But most of the blame belongs to the Iranian government’s incompetent and corrupt water management. And so-called moderates and reformists, such as former President Mohammad Khatami and current President Hassan Rouhani, are to blame as much as any other Iranian officials for this disaster.

Over the past 40 years, the regime’s entrenched corruption, cronyism, and mismanagement of environmental and natural resources have brought Iran to the edge of disaster. In 2013, the former head of Iran’s environmental protection agency reported that 85 percent of the country’s groundwater was gone, while the population had doubled in the last 40 years. According to Issa Kalantari, a former agriculture minister and current head of the environmental protection agency, millions of Iranians will be forced to migrate to more developed countries, especially in Europe, if the water crisis is not resolved in 20 to 30 years.

Before the 1979 revolution, Iran’s population was less than 34 million, and its renewable water resources were around 135 billion cubic meters. In the last few years, however, as the population reached more than 80 million, the renewable water resources have been reduced to almost 80 billion cubic meters due to lower precipitation and higher evaporation. Meanwhile, the consumption rate per capita has risen. This is an unsustainable trend heading toward a tragic conclusion.

But the story of Iran’s water crisis began before the revolution when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi nationalized Iran’s water resources. For more than 3,000 years, Iranians avoided overexploiting aquifers by relying on indigenous pieces of infrastructure called qanats—slightly inclining underground canals for transferring water within arid and semiarid lands without exposing water to the sun. But the shah introduced to Iran the use of deep well-drilling technology and powerful motor pumps that began depleting the country’s aquifers.

The early years of the revolution made matters worse. Several Iranian water and environmental experts warned the revolutionary government about an expected decline in annual precipitation as a result of climate change, which would have a severe impact on surface water and groundwater resources. To mitigate the effects, they proposed plans for reducing water consumption and diversifying food production. They also suggested shifting water management policies toward recharging aquifers, designing better irrigation techniques, and pursuing more sustainable policies for the agriculture sector, which consumes more than 90 percent of Iran’s water resources.

Instead, the Islamic Republic began to build hundreds of dams, most completely unnecessary, and new networks of water transfer pipelines and channels. The revolutionary government’s hope was that these measures would allow it to collect and supply enough water for agricultural and industrial projects. The dam building also benefited construction companies connected to the regime, especially those affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. But the new dams blocked major rivers from reaching many parts of the country and prevented the replenishment of aquifers. As a result, farmers started drilling deeper wells to reach the natural water tables that were gradually sinking.

In the meantime, the regime, striving to gain self-sufficiency in its conflict with the West, encouraged farmers to plant more wheat and other grains without paying attention to the water intensity of cereals and the increasingly dire state of the aquifers. This led to farmers digging tens of thousands of wells, many illegally without any supervision or accountability. In the 40 years since the revolution, the number of wells in Iran has climbed from 60,000 to almost 800,000. The deputy agriculture minister announced in 2018 that 430,000 of these wells were illegal and that farmers were pumping an excessive amount of water from many legal wells. The water tables are now on the verge of complete depletion.

The Islamic regime has built more than 600 dams, promising sufficient water to farmers all around the country. Instead, such infrastructure has prevented water from reaching lakes, wetlands, and aquifers. Aquifers that haven’t been recharged are starting to collapse and subside permanently (an effect that has been evident in areas of the United States such as Fresno, California).

The regime’s destruction of Iran’s environment and water resources are well demonstrated by the dying Zayandeh River. In Persian, Zayandeh means life-giver. The river, which springs from the Zagros Mountains in the west and ends in the Gavkhooni wetland in central Iran, was responsible for the earliest civilizations in central Iran and was the reason for the centuries of the prosperity of the magnificent city of Isfahan, known in Persian as “half of the world.”...




Will Israelis Say Bye-Bye to Bibi?

The Israeli leader faces possible corruption charges weeks before a key election.

Israel’s attorney general made public Thursday his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a handful of corruption charges, imperiling the Israeli leader’s political future at a time when he faces his most formidable election campaign challenge in more than a decade.

Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who previously served as his cabinet secretary, released a 60-page charge sheet with allegations of bribe-taking, fraud, and breach of public trust in three separate cases revolving around the prime minister’s dealings with Israeli tycoons.

The charges mark the climax of graft investigations that have dogged the Israeli leader for more than two years. Netanyahu is due a hearing before Mandelblit makes a final decision on the indictment, but the political fallout from the current decision could reshape the final weeks of the campaign, the actual vote, and the coalition haggling after the results emerge. The election is scheduled for April 9.

In the past decade alone, a former Israeli prime minister and former president have served jail sentences but Netanyahu is the first prime minister to face charges while in office, and the decision plunges Israel’s political system into uncharted waters.

As he seeks re-election to a fifth term in office, Netanyahu and his Likud party are facing former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, whose centrist party Blue and White includes two other former army chiefs and is seeking to appeal to right-wing swing voters.

But Mandelblit’s charges could prove to be the more potent threat to Netanyahu.

The Supreme Court rejected an eleventh-hour legal petition by Likud that sought to prevent the charges from being made public.

Two of the cases involve alleged deals to influence Israel’s news media coverage of the prime minister. In one, dubbed “Case 4000,” Netanyahu is alleged to have engaged in bribe-taking by easing regulations on Israel’s telephone monopoly, Bezeq. In return, the company’s owner, Shaul Elovitch, provided the prime minister favorable coverage in the online portal Walla! News, which he controls. Elovitch was also charged with bribery.

In “Case 2000,” Netanyahu was recorded discussing a deal to get flattering coverage from the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, a newspaper controlled by the media baron Arnon Mozes. In return, Netanyahu allegedly offered legislation that would harm the business interests of Yedioth’s chief competitor, Israel Today, a free tabloid known for its deferential treatment of Netanyahu and owned by the American gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. The deal never came to fruition. Mozes was charged with bribery as well.

“Case 1000” deals with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cigars, pink champagne, and jewelry purchased regularly by the Israeli-American movie mogul Arnon Milchan and provided to the Netanyahu family. Milchan was not charged.

For the last two years, Mandelblit, who was appointed by Netanyahu, has served as the Israeli approximation of U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating U.S. President Donald Trump’s potential involvement in Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Mandelblit has faced pressure from opposition politicians and the prime minister, as well as endless media speculation charges.

Netanyahu, who has declared himself innocent of all charges, alleges that the investigation is a conspiracy to overthrow him. In recent weeks he tried to pressure Mandelblit to hold off on the indictment, saying it would be interfere in the election campaign.

Speaking after the indictment, Netanyahu denied the charges and said Mandelblit had caved to political pressure. “The left has gone on a witch hunt to overthrow the rule of the right under my leadership, and to crown Gantz,” he said.

On the other side of the political divide, politicians have alleged that Mandelblit has a conflict of interest because of his role as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary before being appointed.

Though Netanyahu’s support among his base is seen as robust, the indictment could prompt a change in voting that would result in a handful of parliamentary seats to shift from Likud to Gantz’s party—or to other right-wing parties that could eventually join a government led by Gantz. There’s also the possibility that the charges would encourage politicians in Likud itself to nudge Netanyahu aside should the party perform poorly in the election.

“Nobody knows how this is going to affect the campaign. This has never happened in Israel’s history,” said Tal Shalev, a political correspondent for the Israeli website Walla! News before the announcement. “The conventional wisdom about Mandelblit’s indictment is that it’s a D-Day—and the whole election will restart after it.”

In the final months leading up to the decision, election polls have consistently pegged Netanyahu’s Likud party as the largest party, with around 30 of the parliament’s 120 seats, suggesting that his support among Israeli right-wing voters remains resilient. Though Gantz’s party vaulted into the lead through a merger with another centrist party, polls still suggest that a coalition of right-wing and religious parties similar to Netanyahu’s current coalition would control a majority in parliament.

But, in an indication of how Netanyahu might be imperiled by legal charges, a poll released on the eve of the indictment by the Times of Israel suggested that the decision by the attorney general would knock four seats off the Likud tally and boost the rival Blue and White party—potentially shifting the balance of power in parliament.

The key political calculus, analysts say, is whether the indictment shakes loose parliamentary mandates of moderate swing voters from Likud and they then migrate, either to right -ing parties that might sit in a coalition with Gantz or to the Blue and White party itself. According to the Times of Israel poll, 28 percent of Likud voters said they wouldn’t vote for the party in the event of an indictment recommendation....


Failure in Hanoi Doesn’t Mean Peace Is Dead

The foundations need to be laid for a long, hard route ahead.

BY PATRICIA KIM | MARCH 1, 2019, 2:03 PM

Patricia M. Kim is a Senior Policy Analyst with the China Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

This week, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walked away from Hanoi empty-handed. Their failure to sign a deal was shocking, given most of the speculation before the summit had focused on what would be in the deal, not on whether one would be signed. The failed summit has undeniably made negotiations more difficult going forward. But the silver lining is that the two sides now have the time to step back and lay the foundations for a sustainable diplomatic track, which is essential given the long road ahead.

The Hanoi summit, according to Trump, ultimately collapsed because the North Koreans wanted all existing sanctions lifted in exchange for dismantling the Yongbyon test site. A few hours later, Ri Yong Ho, the North Korean minister of foreign affairs, held a news conference and countered that his side had only asked for partial, not full, sanctions relief. He specified that out of the 11 total U.N. sanctions, they wanted the five imposed between 2016 and 2017—especially the parts that have an impact on “peoples’ livelihood” and the “civilian economy”—to be lifted.

Although Ri’s account is technically accurate, in reality the five sanctions he specified are at the heart of the economic pressure campaign on North Korea. These sanctions include measures to cap North Korea’s crude oil and refined petroleum imports; a ban on the export of coal, iron, lead, seafood, textiles, and joint ventures with North Korean partners; and a ban on North Korean laborers from working abroad.

It’s unclear why Kim thought Trump would be willing to accept such a maximalist demand, especially given the Trump administration’s political vulnerabilities at home. But Kim clearly lost face after taking a big political gamble and failing to win any economic concessions. As a result, he will likely have less flexibility going forward for two reasons.

First, the failed summit is likely to strengthen hard-liners in Pyongyang who are uncomfortable with Kim’s strategic pivot toward economic development and outreach to the outside world. They can now point to what happened at Hanoi to reinforce the argument that, regardless of Trump’s proclaimed friendship with Kim, the United States and other foreign powers should not be trusted.

Kim will also be constrained by his own words. Only two months ago, he declared in his New Year’s address that if the United States continued to impose sanctions in a “miscalculation of our people’s patience,” he would “find a new way” to defend “the supreme interests” of his state. Having publicly made such a vow to his people, and after being burned in Hanoi, it’s quite likely that Kim will find it politically difficult to return to the negotiating table with a moderated position. In fact, Ri ended his press conference by declaring that North Korea’s “principled position” would never change, even in subsequent negotiations.

In addition, there was no indication in Hanoi that the two sides had agreed on next steps or dates for working-level meetings. With such a wide gap in negotiating positions and no pressing deadlines like a summit to work up to, it’s highly possible that talks will stall. In fact, negotiations stalled even after the previous summit when North Korea won significant concessions—including the first-ever summit with a sitting U.S. president and the suspension in U.S.-South Korean military exercises—for vaguely committing to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and agreeing to return the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War.

Obviously, the biggest risk post-Hanoi is that if subsequent working-level talks continue to hit dead ends, both sides will lose patience and goodwill.Obviously, the biggest risk post-Hanoi is that if subsequent working-level talks continue to hit dead ends, both sides will lose patience and goodwill. North Korea could resume nuclear or missile tests or engage in some flagrant behavior to make a statement. In that case, it’s not unrealistic to see a return to, in Trump’s words, “fire and fury.”
Yet Trump, at least thus far, has insisted that he and Kim still have a good relationship and a deal could be struck in the future. Other key players in the region will also expend efforts to ensure the situation doesn’t deteriorate to such a point. South Korean President Moon Jae-in will continue to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington, and Beijing will also continue to push for a diplomatic solution.

But there are some silver linings to the breakdown. The first is that a failed deal is better than a bad deal. And there were many different possible bad deals that could have been signed, such as one that only addressed intercontinental ballistic missiles while leaving U.S. allies vulnerable to shorter-range missiles or one that left a completely open-ended timeline for actual denuclearization, amounting to the recognition of North Korea as a de facto nuclear power.

And by not rushing a deal, the United States now has more time to hold extensive discussions with its Asian allies—especially South Korea—about the difficult questions that will arise on the future purpose and operation of the U.S.-South Korean alliance and the larger U.S.-led alliance network in Asia if and when an end of war declaration is signed.

These kinds of conversations take time and are not just topics for the respective defense departments. Broad discussions among leaders at all levels and across all bureaus, and eventually between leaders and their citizens, are necessary to create a shared vision for how Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo will work together to sustain peace not just on the Korean Peninsula but in the larger region.

The final silver lining is that Washington and Pyongyang now have an opportunity to return to the working level, notwithstanding the challenges discussed above, and set the foundations for a sustainable, long-term diplomatic process.

Two priority items should include: first, hammering out a clearly defined, time-bound road map that ends with a denuclearized North Korea, even if this end state is set many years from now. A final deadline is imperative for reassuring allies that the United States will not allow North Korea to remain a de facto nuclear power indefinitely and for upholding global nonproliferation norms.

Second, an institutionalized mechanism should be created so that when future negotiations stall or fail, there’s a normalized and face-saving way all of the parties can return back to the negotiating table. Without such baseline understandings in place, it will be difficult to sustain momentum in what will be a long journey ahead. And by failing to properly prepare, the United States risks repeating the history of the 1990s and 2000s, when it seemed as if an agreement was around the corner, only to have these efforts fall apart and a worse situation emerge each time.

North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Facility: No Indications Plutonium Production Reactor Is Operating

Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center from February 2019 indicates that despite recent assertions that the 5 MWe reactor is running, there are no obvious indicators that it or the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) are operating.

Around the Reactors

Commercial satellite imagery from February 11 and 21, 2019 of the 5 MWe plutonium production reactor shows no indicators that the reactor is operating. There is no steam venting from the generator hall, nor is there any hot water effluent at the cooling water outfall pipe. The last time such activity was observed was in November 2018, when a small outfall was noted, though was likely due to the transfer of residual heat from previous reactor operations.

There is, however, continued movement of vehicles and personnel around the reactor over the last few weeks; roads have been swept clean, showing that the reactor site is being well maintained.

Dredging continues near the 5 MWe reactor’s secondary cooling system, where piles of dredged material now effectively block the river channel that serves the system’s pump house. The purpose of this activity is still unclear.


Ignoring U.S. Sanctions, Russia Pushes Middle East Arms Sales

Negotiating arms deals with the Russian government should be a tricky business these days. A U.S. law passed in 2017 allows the State Department to slap sanctions on anyone, including foreign states, caught buying weapons from arms trading agency Rosoboronexport and state-controlled manufacturer Rostec.

Despite that economic threat looming over potential customers, Russian government officials and industrialists exerted a strong presence here at IDEX, the region’s largest defense exhibition. While Western diplomats and industry officials mainly kept a low profile, Russian companies staged a swaggering marketing blitz, unveiling new export products and corralling international journalists into news conferences with high-ranking executives.

The scene unfolded as Russia worked to complete deals to export the S-400 air defense system to Turkey and India, while negotiating behind the scenes with Saudi Arabia to sign a contract for the same, despite Riyadh previously committing to a highly touted, $15 billion deal to import the similar Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system from Lockheed Martin.

The focus of Russia’s sales pressure was clear, despite being unable to discuss the names of potential customers in the region, due to concerns that acknowledging their identity could trigger a backlash from U.S. officials.

“Today’s political situation does not allow us to be that frank with the answers here,” said Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov during a news conference here. “Because disclosing information with the negotiations with this or that country today would put the leadership of those countries in a very difficult position, because the U.S. side might press them after imposing different kinds of sanctions. That is why we are trying to negotiate with them silently.”

As one of the most demanded and potent products for export, the S-400 complex made by Rostec subsidiary Almaz-Antey is a key target for U.S. diplomats seeking to punish Russian interests for a string of offenses, including the annexation of Crimea, supplying advanced weapons to the Syrian government and the chemical poisoning of former spies living in the U.K...


U.S.-backed SDF hands over 280 Iraqi, foreign detainees to Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have handed to Iraq 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees in recent days, Iraq’s military said in a statement on Sunday.

An Iraqi military colonel confirmed to Reuters that 130 people were transferred on Sunday, adding to the 150 transferred on Thursday. They included the first known transfers of non-Iraqi detainees to Iraq, but it was unclear if they will remain in Iraqi custody.

There are meant to be more such handovers under an agreement to transfer a group of some 500 detainees held by the SDF in Syria, Iraqi military sources said.

U.S.-backed SDF gave 20 Islamic State fighters to Iraq, mostly French citizens
Among the 280 were as many as 14 French citizens and six Arabs of unspecific nationality, according to one military source close to the handover process who commands troops near the Syrian border...


Libyan El Sharara oilfield remains closed as armed men still there: NOC

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s El Sharara oilfield, the country’s biggest, remains closed because an armed group is still there, the chairman of state oil firm NOC said on Sunday.

Mustafa Sanalla rebuffed calls by eastern Libyan forces called Libyan National Army (LNA), which had taken control of the 315,000 barrels a day field and declared it secure.

“The field is closed because of the presence of a group of civilians, this armed militia, and some military people with them,” the NOC chairman said in the video posted online.

The oilfield deep in Libya’s south has been closed since December when state guards and tribesmen seized it to make financial demands, the latest in several such closures over the past few years...

Germany likely to extend halt on Saudi arms exports, source says

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government on Friday said it would decide before the end of March whether to extend its halt on weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia, making it likely the embargo will continue beyond the current deadline of March 9.

A source familiar with the situation said the freeze in arms shipments to Saudi Arabia would be extended for about two weeks. The delay was first reported by Der Spiegel magazine on Friday.

The coalition government leaders were aware of time pressure and were committed to resolving the issue - which has split the ruling coalition - this month, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said at news conference.

Already concerned about Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen, Germany’s coalition government agreed to ban future arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Riyadh’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul. It also temporarily halted deliveries of previously approved kit.

Der Spiegel said Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is also vice chancellor, agreed to extend the freeze in arms deliveries, despite mounting pressure from industry and key allies to reverse course, or risk damage to its commercial credibility.

The freeze affects deliveries of weapons and spare parts from Britain and France because of the high level of German content in programs such as the Eurofighter Typhoon combat jet and the Meteor air-to-air missile.

It is also blocking Britain’s 10 billion-pound ($13.24 billion) sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh. That could affect the results of leading UK defense firm BAE Systems...

Turkey conducts largest ever navy drill as tensions rise in Mediterranean

Spread across three seas, the Turkish military is aiming to showcase its strength and advertise energy security, experts say

Turkish armed forces began the largest naval exercise in the country's history on Wednesday, with 103 military vessels and thousands of soldiers conducting operations in three seas surrounding the country.

The drill, dubbed “Blue Homeland”, will be held until Saturday, covering over 462,000 square kilometres in the Black Sea, Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean.

Over recent months, tensions have been building in the waters to Turkey's west with its neighbours Greece and Cyprus, as the countries vie over subterranean energy resources, particularly natural gas.

As part of the naval exercise, 13 frigates, 6 corvettes, 7 submarines, 7 minehunter vessels, and dozens of patrol and landing ships, along with military helicopters and drones, are conducting war games.

Blue Homeland has already caused disturbance in neighbouring countries, as Greek media reports suggest Athens has perceived it as a source of “renewed concern given the recent tension in bilateral relations”.

An Ankara-based source close to Turkey's military, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye that initial Turkish military plans in September didn’t intend for the scale now seen.

“They changed the plans. It seems to me that they have wanted to send a signal to the region about Turkey's capabilities,” the source said.

Greece's new defence minister and former army chief, Evangelos Apostolakis, sought to play down the drill, describing it as “regular Turkish military training activities”. He said, however, that Greece would still monitor them.

Retired Turkish rear admiral Deniz Kutluk told MEE that Blue Motherland’s main aim was to show the real capabilities of Turkey's navy for deterrence, rather than sending messages to any neighbouring country.

“There was this outside perception that the Turkish navy has been undermined by domestic shocks," he said.

"Senior commanders seem to understand this misperception. That’s why they wanted to reveal to the world that the Turkish navy is capable of simultaneously fighting in three seas surrounding Turkey."...


Inside the Nasty Battle to Stop Amazon From Winning the Pentagon’s Cloud Contract

Conspiratorial dossier and social media target Amazon, defense officials, trade groups.

A salacious dossier, a mystery client with an alias, dueling allegations of sexual misconduct.

They’re all part of the dirty-tricks campaigns unleashed over the last 10 months as some of the U.S.’s technology giants battle to win a $10 billion cloud-computing contract that the Pentagon plans to award to a single company.

Allegations of a corrupt procurement process have been directed at Pentagon officials and company managers, primarily at Amazon.com Inc., the front-runner for the contract, which involves transitioning massive amounts of Defense Department data to a commercially operated cloud system. Microsoft Corp., International Business Machines Corp. and Oracle Corp. are the biggest names jockeying against Amazon, though there’s no evidence they are behind the mudslinging.

Those companies do, however, vigorously oppose the Pentagon’s winner-take-all approach, arguing that it will amplify security risks and lock the agency into a single technology provider for many years.

One Oracle critic, Price Floyd, a former Pentagon spokesman who has been an Amazon consultant, says he sees the hand of the Redwood Shores, California, company, with millions of dollars’ worth of defense business on the line, behind the 33-page anti-Amazon dossier circulating in Washington. Kenneth Glueck, the senior vice president who oversees Oracle’s government relations in Washington, wouldn’t respond to the allegation but said the company’s interest is in competing for the contract “with the best, next-generation cloud technology at the best price.”

Oracle filed suit Dec. 6 in federal court in hopes of upending the Pentagon’s plans. The company three weeks earlier lost a similar challenge at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which referees federal contract disputes. The watchdog agency on Dec. 11 also dismissed a protest by IBM because the dispute is now pending in court...


Israel ex-minister sentenced to 11 years for spying for Iran

Gonen Segev, who was convicted in January, sentenced to 11 years in prison for spying for regional rival Iran.

A former Israeli minister has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on Tuesday for spying for regional rival Iran, the prosecutor said, after admitting to the charges last month.

Gonen Segev was convicted in January when the Israeli justice ministry said he reached a plea deal after confessing to severe espionage and passing information to an enemy country with the purpose of harming Israel.

Prosecutor Geula Cohen confirmed to journalists outside the Jerusalem court that the judge had accepted the plea bargain and issued the sentence.

Segev, energy minister from 1995 to 1996, was indicted in June. The Shin Bet internal security service said at the time that he was recruited by Iranian intelligence while living in Nigeria.

Investigators found that Segev made contact with officials at the Iranian embassy in Nigeria in 2012 and that he visited Iran twice for meetings with his handlers, the Shin Bet said.

Segev, who was extradited from Equatorial Guinea and arrested in May, was charged with providing Iran information about "energy market and security sites in Israel"...

Bin Laden: US offers reward for Osama's son Hamza

Hamza Bin Laden's whereabouts are not known

The United States is offering a reward of up to $1m (£750,000) for information about one of the sons of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Hamza Bin Laden is emerging as a leader of the Islamist militant group, officials say.

He is thought to be based near the Afghan-Pakistani border.

In recent years, he has released audio and video messages calling on followers to attack the US and its Western allies in revenge for his father's killing.

In 2011, US special forces killed Osama Bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He approved the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia's interior ministry announced it had stripped Hamza Bin Laden of his citizenship.

In March 2018, he appeared in an audio message urging citizens of Saudi Arabia to prepare for jihad against their monarchs.

What is known about him?

Hamza Bin Laden, who is believed to be about 30 years old, was officially designated by the US as a global terrorist two years ago.

The US state department says he married the daughter of Mohammed Atta, who hijacked one of the four commercial aircraft used in the 2001 attacks, and crashed it into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.

Letters from Osama Bin Laden seized from his compound indicated that he had been grooming Hamza, thought to be his favourite son, to replace him as leader of al-Qaeda.

Hamza Bin Laden is believed to have spent years with his mother in Iran, where it is thought his wedding took place, while other reports suggest he may have lived in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Syria.

"We do believe he's probably in the Afghan-Pakistan border [sic] and... he'll cross into Iran. But he could be anywhere though in... south central Asia," said Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Michael Evanoff.

US counter-terrorism officials have been growing increasingly concerned that Hamza Bin Laden could emerge as a charismatic leader of a revitalised al-Qaeda.

After the killing of Hamza's father, Osama, by US Navy Seal commandos in Pakistan in 2011, al-Qaeda was largely eclipsed by its even more fanatical rival, the Islamic State group (IS).

The nominal al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a dull, bespectacled Egyptian strategist who has failed to inspire. But western intelligence figures, including MI6 chief Alex Younger, warn that al-Qaeda has not gone away.

It has used its recent low profile to rebuild and reorganise, planning more attacks on the West and its allied governments across the Middle East and Africa.

Al-Qaeda always said it was a mistake for IS to declare a physical caliphate which could then be attacked by a US-led coalition.

They were proved right and now both organisations present an ongoing threat of terrorist attacks...

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Reaches Higher Into Sub-Orbit

LOS ANGELES--Virgin Galactic successfully completed a second flight to sub-orbit with its SpaceShipTwo Unity spaceplane on Feb. 22, reaching its highest altitude and climb speed to date, while for the first time carrying a third crew member in the passenger cabin.

The vehicle, which was on its fifth rocket-powered test sortie from Mojave Air & Spaceport in California, achieved an apogee of just over 55.85 mi (90 km) and Mach 3.04 following the first full-duration burn of its hybrid rocket motor. The success of the flight, which was also the first at a heavier, operationally representative weight, is another boost for the company’s plan to start commercial space flights later this year.

The flight was crewed by Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave McKay alongside lead trainer pilot Mike Masucci, with Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor, monitoring conditions in the passenger cabin. Moses is also Virgin Galactic’s cabin evaluation lead and a micro-gravity researcher who has completed more than 400 zero-g parabolic flights in four different aircraft.

“This represents the next steps into what is the next hardest thing about the flight test program which is the repeatability of it. How well is it doing what it is supposed to be doing, time and time again,” says Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic president and husband of Beth Moses. “We’ve tested it out a little bit, kicked the tires a little and we have seen what Unity can do. Now we have to make that [operational envelope] box a little bigger. We are hitting that phase now.”

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