The US Department of the Treasury issued new sanctions against Iran, targeting two individuals deemed to be Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi has been identified as a financier for Hezbollah, and Safi al-Din has been identified as Hezbollah's representative in Iran. The Treasury Department stated that the sanctions "show the convergence of Iran's support for terrorism with many facets of illicit criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking." The sanctions come after President Trump's decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal and to begin reimposing sanctions against Iran. (Map: Myket.ir)
President Donald Trump announced that the US will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 pact under which the US was to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons. The White House statement says the US will re-imposes all sanctions lifted or waived in connection with the JCPOA, including those instated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, and the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act of 2012. The sanctions are expected to go into effect in no later than 180 days. (Map: Myket.ir)
The de-escalation in the crisis on the Korean peninsula reached a welcome turning point as the Pyongyang government announced that it will suspend nuclear and missile tests—and shut down its Punggye-ri test site, saying it has "finished its mission." But despite this face-saving rhetoric, reports suggest cessation of the program could be motivated by fear of a disaster at the Punggye-ri site. Geological experts warn that the site may have become fatigued and unstable from the nuclear tests, and could be in danger of collapse. After the last nuclear test in September, there were reports that a tunnel at the facility had collapsed, killing 200 workers. Observers also cited the fear of a "Chernobyl-style" meltdown at the North's reactors where plutonium is produced for the weapons program, placing 100 million people across northeast Asia in "mortal danger." (Map: Federation of American Scientists)
The imminent fall of rebel-held Ghouta to Russian-backed Assad regime forces approaches just after the fall of Kurdish-held Afrin to Turkish-backed rebel forces. As Arab and Kurd are pitted against each other, the Great Powers carve up Syria. But both sides are preparing to advance on Idlib next. Even as Trump talks of getting the US out of Syria, potential builds for a superpower confrontation. (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)
From anonymous radical-right xenophobes in Britain came the call to make April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." Letters were sent to addresses across England, calling for violent attacks on Muslims. Police were on alert, and women who wear the hijab were advised to stay home. There were also reports that some of the letters had arrived in New York, causing the city's Muslim community to mobilize and the NYPD to beef up security. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined multi-faith leaders to condemn the threats. His comments were laudable in intent, but revealing in their wording: "Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, let’s embrace a Muslim, let’s embrace a Christian, let’s embrace a person of Jewish faith…" Why has the word "Jew" become taboo, and especially in progressive circles? (Image: frgdr.com)
In Episode Three of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg expounds on the concept of the countervortex. Making note of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists‘ decision to advance the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight, he discusses the current global dilemma in light of EP Thompson‘s 1980 essay Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilization, and Rosa Luxemburg‘s positing of humanity’s imminent future as either “socialism or barbarism.” What are the prospects for resisting the global vortex of ecological collapse, totalitarianism and permanent war in the age of Trump and Putin? This is a question that goes beyond the personalities involved, and involves a profound critique of the underlying political economy that elevates such pathological personalities to the highest levels of power. You can listen on SoundCloud, and support our ongoing podcast via Patreon.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic weapons program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions." (Image: misucell.com)
If Trump is seeking to appease the Christian fundamentalist element of his base with his pledge to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, this should hardly be comforting to Jews. The evangelical fundis see Jewish control of Jerusalem only as fulfillment of Bible prophecies portending the End Times. What makes this wackiness dangerous is that with nuclear weapons, the human race now has the capacity to bring about the foreseen rain of fire and brimstone.
Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido seems, unfortunately, poised to jump into the headlines as East Asia's next flashpoint for Great Power confrontation. When North Korea fired a missile over the island last month, it was during unprecedented joint US-Japan military exercises on Hokkaido. Now Russia is conducting its own exercises in the Kuril Islands immediately to the north—including territory that Japan has claimed since the end of World War II.
Amid all the hype over North Korea's threats to fire a nuclear missile at Guam, just a few media accounts have made note of how Guamians themselves are reacting. Guam is usually seen in the US only as a strategic Pentagon outpost. But with a referendum on independence in the offing, growing sentiment on the island holds that the only thing Guamians are getting out of their current US territorial status is being made a nuclear target.
As Trump and and Kim Jong-un exchange nuclear threats, anti-missile protesters in rural South Korea scored a win, prompting Seoul to delay plans to expand the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery that the Pentagon installed in April. The announcement came as villagers and activists were blocking the road to the THAAD base.
A proposed amendment to Pakistan's constitution, making Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi "national languages" along with Urdu, is sparking an angry backlash from nationalists.