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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Obama and Netanyahu On Collision Course

For six years, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been on a collision course over how to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions, a high-stakes endeavor both men see as a centerpiece of their legacies.

The coming weeks will put the relationship between their countries, which otherwise remain stalwart allies, to one of its toughest tests.

Netanyahu is bound for Washington for an address to Congress on Tuesday aimed squarely at derailing Obama's cherished bid for a diplomatic deal with Tehran. At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry and other international negotiators will be in Switzerland for talks with the Iranians, trying for a framework agreement before a late March deadline.

In between are Israel's elections March 17, which have heightened the political overtones of Netanyahu's visit to Washington.

The prime minister is speaking to Congress at the request of Republicans. His visit was coordinated without the Obama administration's knowledge, deepening tensions between two leaders who have never shown much affection for each other.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, said Netanyahu was "crossing some lines that haven't been crossed before and is putting Israel into the partisan crossfire in a way it has not been before."

But the largest pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has tried to play down the partisanship.

"AIPAC welcomes the prime minister's speech to Congress and we believe that this is a very important address," spokesman Marshall Wittmann said. "We have been actively encouraging senators and representatives to attend and we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from both sides of the aisle."

Nearly a dozen Democratic lawmakers plan to sit out Netanyahu's speech, calling it an affront to the president.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb has become a defining challenge for both Obama and Netanyahu, yet one they have approached far differently.

For Obama, getting Iran to verifiably prove it is not pursuing nuclear weapons would be a bright spot in a foreign policy arena in which numerous outcomes are uncertain and would validate his early political promise to negotiate with Iran without conditions.

Netanyahu considers unacceptable any deal with Iran that doesn't end its nuclear program entirely and opposes the diplomatic pursuit as one that minimizes what he considers an existential threat to Israel.

Credit to Huffpost

ex-MI6 chief, warns of Russia 'danger'

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Russia has become a danger to Britain and the country must be prepared to take steps to defend itself and its allies, the former head of MI6 says.

Sir John Sawers, who recently retired after five years as chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Russia poses a "state to state threat".

Sir John said dealing with such threats would require more defence spending.

But he called on issues with Russia to be addressed by "increased dialogue".

He said he was disappointed how, after the end of the Cold War, Russia's and Europe's paths had failed to converge.

Russia's threat was "not necessarily directly to the UK but to countries around its periphery".

"[Russia] keep on reminding us that they have nuclear weapons," he said.

"The one level in which Russia and America are equals is at the nuclear level.

"Now we don't want to have a repeat of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 where we got to the brink of nuclear war.

"We need to be able to address this through increased dialogue."

'Multi-polar world'

His comments come after a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

"We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy because it isn't," Sir John said.

"One of the aspects of the modern world is that we live in a much more dangerous world these days.

"The stability that we had during the Cold War, or the predominance of the West that we had in the decade or two after the Cold War - that is now changing.

"It's a much sort of flatter world, a much more multi-polar world and there are real dangers associated with that."
Ukrainian armed forces have been battling against pro-Russian separatists

Sir John described Russia as always having been an "issue of concern" for security services.

"Europe and Russia are not converging with one another so we're going to have to find a new way to coexist with Russia," he said.

"This crisis at the moment - it's focused on Ukraine but Ukraine is a symptom. It's not the real problem.

"The real problem is how we live with a Russia which feels very exposed. Putin's actions are ones of a leader who believes his own security is at stake.

"And here we've got nuclear bombers approaching the Cornish coast."

Credit to BBC

NATO Warms up Its Engines: German Tank Battalion to be Activated

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In a magazine interview published on Friday, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the tank battalion, based in Bergen in the state of Lower Saxony, would receive more equipment and personnel as part of efforts to redress what she called "an investment bottleneck."

She also told the magazine, which is published by the German Bundeswehr, that already existing units would be equipped with more material and that the already close cooperation with the French, Polish and Dutch armies would be stepped up still further.

This cooperation could possibly include integrating Leopard tanks discarded by the Dutch army into the Bergen tank battalion, German security sources have said.

'Depth and breadth'

Von der Leyen spoke in the interview of modifying the principle of "breadth over depth" that underlay a reform of the armed forces carried out five years ago, saying that although Germany required "an appropriate breadth of capability" to fulfill its military obligations, it "just as urgently needed more depth and staying power."

"The security situation has changed noticeably with the crises of 2014," she said, referring to Russia's alleged military intervention in neighboring Ukraine's pro-Moscow separatist insurgency.

"We have to give new and honest answers to the question of what we must really be able to do and what the army needs and what it doesn't," she added.

Among other things, von der Leyen called into question the ceilings for heavy weapons systems established by her predecessor, current Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who like her belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

"As a first step, for example, we want to end the practice of giving away or scrapping good surplus material, for example Leopard 2," she said.

De Maiziere had planned to reduce Germany's contingent of Leopard 2 combat tanks from 350 to 225.

More NATO demands

Germany's plans to increase the flexibility and capability of its armed forces come amid growing demands from NATO for member states to boost their reaction speed.

In response to Russia's actions in Ukraine, the military alliance called in September for the founding of a new rapid response force based in eastern Europe, in which the German Bundeswehr plays an important role.

Germany's military obligations also include training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A reform of the Bundeswehr was instigated in 2010 under the then-Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and partially implemented under de Maiziere. The reform measures included abolishing compulsory military service and reducing troop numbers from 250,000 to 185,000.

Credit to Russia Insider

Street Preacher Arrested California

More Giant Craters Appear In Siberia, Scientists Nervous To Investigate

In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain.Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet's most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called "the ends of the Earth" where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 30 metres in diameter.
One of the craters in Siberia's so-called "ends of the earth"

The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn't alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Climate change had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. "Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater," one German scientist said at the time.
Video of the craters...
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Now, however, as The Sydney Morning herald reports, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge...
Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters,the Siberian Times reported. Dozens more Siberian craters are likely still out there, said Moscow scientist Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, calling for an "urgent" investigation.

He fears that if temperatures continue to rise — and they were five degrees higher than average in 2012 and 2013 — more craters will emerge in an area awash in gas fields vital to the national economy. "It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this," he told the Siberian Times. "We must research this phenomenon urgently, to prevent possible disasters."


These objects need to be studied, but it is rather dangerous for the researchers," Bogoyavlensky told the Siberian Times. "We know that there can occur a series of gas emissions over an extended period of time, but we do not know exactly when they might happen. ... It is very risky, because no one can guarantee there would not be new emissions."

Making matters worse, the gas is extremely flammable. One of the methane bursts has already caught fire. Nearby residents in a town called Antipayuta say they recently saw a bright flash in the distance. "Probably the gas ignited," Bogoyavlensky said. "This shows us that such [an] explosion could be rather dangerous and destructive. Years of experience has shown that gas emissions can cause serious damage to drilling rigs, oil and gas fields and offshore pipelines."
When the news first broke last year, social media users pointed to everything from a meteorite to a stray missile to aliens to the Bermuda Triangle as possible causes. But the most plausible explanation seemed to be the explosive release of melting methane hydrate—an ice-like material frozen in the Arctic ground—thanks to global warming. But, as National Geographic reports, other theories are coming to light...
Now, scientists are arguing that the methane theory is unlikely, based on new satellite surveys released by Russian researchers that found dozens of new craters in Siberia.

"The jury is still out" on the cause of Siberia's craters, says Carolyn Ruppel, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Gas Hydrates Project. But she and other scientists say the new satellite mapping suggests another explanation that has to do with the rapid melting of ice cores called pingos.

A pingo is a plug of ice that forms near the surface over time and has a small mound or hill on top.

When an ice plug melts rapidly—as many have been, thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures in Siberia over the past year—it can cause part of the ground to collapse, forming a crater. But that process alone isn't enough to explain the ejected rocks that have been found around the rim of the craters, which suggest some sort of explosion.

Instead, Ruppel theorizes that the craters were formed by a sudden release of natural gas that had been stored in the permafrost but was kept under pressure by the weight of the pingo.

This theory is bolstered by the Russian satellite data, which show pingos—they appear as small mounds—in the exact positions where the craters later formed.
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So in conclusion - "No one knows what is happening in these craters at the moment."
Credit to ZeroHedge