The Cable

Situation Report: Explosion at U.S. base in Japan; top Senate Democrat endorses Iran nuke deal; chemical weapons attacks in Iraq and Syria; riding out the zombie apocalypse; and plenty more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Go boom. An explosion rocked the U.S. Army’s Sagami Depot about 25 miles south of Tokyo on Sunday, lighting up the sky just after midnight, local time. Footage of the explosion shows fireballs streaking hundreds of feet into the sky. Despite the dramatic images, there have been no reports ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Go boom. An explosion rocked the U.S. Army’s Sagami Depot about 25 miles south of Tokyo on Sunday, lighting up the sky just after midnight, local time. Footage of the explosion shows fireballs streaking hundreds of feet into the sky.

Despite the dramatic images, there have been no reports of injuries either at the base or in the surrounding area. While the Army said the Sagami General Depot does not store ammunition or radiological materials, it did confirm that the structure houses canisters of compressed gases, including nitrogen, oxygen, freon, and air. The Japanese government has demanded an explanation about how the blast happened, and the Army said that it has launched an investigation into what went wrong. The base is home to the Army’s 5th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, which in 2011 assisted in recovery and aid efforts after an earthquake and devastating tsunami hit the country.

Weight. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tossed his considerable political heft behind the Obama administration’s domestic battle to curb Iran’s nuclear program on Sunday, calling the deal which was forged last month the best way to protect Israel from an atomic bomb.

Possibly trying to create some space for other democrats who remain on the fence on whether or not to support the agreement, Reid called the agreement the “best path” to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In a long statement released on Sunday, he added, “I believe a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, and the security of Israel is of the utmost importance to me.” Over four decades in Congress, Reid said, “my support for the safety and security of the Israeli people has been at the core of my views on the Middle East.”

More mustard gas? There are new reports that the Islamic State has again fired artillery rounds containing chemical weapons. Just days after the U.S. military confirmed that initial tests show a form of mustard gas was likely used in an attack on Kurdish forces in Iraq, reports out of Syria over the weekend point to another attack near Aleppo.

Islamic State fighters launched about 50 artillery rounds at the town of Marea, residents said, killing one and causing many more to seek medical treatment for labored breathing, boils, and other symptoms that make it sound like mustard gas had been employed. No one really knows where the jihadists may have been able to get the chemical agent, but plenty of experts believe that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad didn’t actually destroy all of the chemical munitions in its arsenal in 2013, when it said it burned them all to avoid American airstrikes.

Over the past year, Syrian activist groups have charged that the regime has repeatedly hit civilians with chlorine gas, and the U.N. agency tasked with keeping a watch on Syria said last year it had found “compelling confirmation” that toxic chemicals were used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in villages in northern Syria in 2014.

It’s a new week, and we’re inching closer to Congress coming back to town to chew over issues like the Iran deal and the defense budget. We’re hearing there’s also a presidential election underway that has been featuring its fair share of national security talk? As always, we’re interested in any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information that you may have at your disposal. Please pass them along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.   

Government work

The Sandia Corporation has to pay the government back $4.7 million after the company used government funds intended for nuclear weapons research to lobby Congress for more funding, which — unsurprisingly — is a violation of Federal law. Sandia operates the Sandia National Laboratories and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the largest defense contractor in the world. In a statement, the Justice Department’s Civil Division chief  Benjamin C. Mizer said “the money allocated by Congress for the Sandia National Laboratories is designed to fund the important mission carried out by our national laboratories, not to lobby Congress for more funding.”

North Korea

As the border between North and South Korea heats up following artillery exchanges last week and emergency talks between the countries take place, North Korea has reportedly put the majority of its submarine fleet to sea and doubled the number of artillery pieces along the DMZ. South Korea’s Defense Ministry claims that 70 percent of North Korea’s submarines are now away from their bases, prompting a search for their whereabouts. In 2010, a Yono-class North Korean midget submarine sank South Korea’s Cheonan corvette. North-South talks to resolve the current dispute have apparently run aground over the subject of South Korea’s demands for an apology from the North after North Korean landmines injured two South Korean soldiers earlier this month.

The South Korean Defense Ministry announced that it is “reviewing the timing of the deployment of strategic U.S. military assets,” along with the United States. There are no specifics on what American assets may be deployed, but three B-2 bombers and 225 Airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, deployed to Guam on Aug. 7 to conduct training in the Pacific region and “maintain readiness” there. Yonhap News Agency also reports that the U.S. might deploy B-52 strategic bombers and a nuclear missile submarine to South Korea as a show of support in the midst of the current North-South flareup.

Yemen

Troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have freed a British hostage kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Yemen, according to the BBC. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula kidnapped Robert Semple, an oil worker stationed in Hadramawt, in February, and he was one of a number of western hostages taken by the group over the past year. Ground troops from the UAE first landed in Yemen’s port city of Aden in early August as part of a Saudi-led coalition to oust Houthi rebels from control of the country.

Iran

Iran unveiled the Fateh 313 on Saturday, a new short-range ballistic missile it claims is a solid fuel missile capable of hitting targets within a 500 kilometer range. Iran showed off the missile during Defense Industry Day, an annual exhibition at which the country traditionally talks up its latest weapons kit. As Reuters notes, Iran claims it won’t abide by restrictions on its ability to import conventional and ballistic weapons technology included in the recent nuclear deal. Iran’s Fars News quoted Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Aerospace Force chief Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh on Saturday saying that the country also plans on developing replacements for its Qiyam and Qadr medium range ballistic missiles.

Israel

In an interview for a forthcoming book, former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak claims that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had teed up strike plans against Iran’s nuclear program three times between 2010 and 2013, but failed to go through with the plans in the face of opposition from then-minister of strategic affairs Moshe Ya’alon and finance minister Yuval Steinitz. Barak claims that Ya’alon and Steinitz were hesitant to act following briefings from the IDF outlining the potential complications that could develop from an Israeli strike on Iran.

NORAD

The U.S. Defense Department’s NORAD ran the Falcon Virgo 15–13 training exercise on Sunday, an attempt to help the command identify low and slow-flying aircraft like gyrocopters and drones in the National Capital Region, Defense Tech reports. The exercise comes as a response to a series of incidents in which smaller, low-flying aircraft have flown near sensitive sites around Washington, DC. In May, a Florida man landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn and last week a drone flying through Washington’s Flight Restricted Zone prompted a fighter jet scramble.

Who’s where when

3:30 p.m. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh conduct a press briefing on the current state of the Air Force at the Pentagon.

Think tanked

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has dropped an interesting new one looking at how the Islamic State is (literally) making the buses run on time for the millions of unfortunate souls who live under its thumb in Iraq and Syria. In “Governing the Caliphate,” Laith Alkhouri and Alex Kassirer find that the jihadist group has done a mostly adequate job of providing essential services to the population, even if things like electricity and some basic food supplies aren’t always available. Still, the group fell in on social service systems that weren’t working very well in the first place, so delivering services “at tolerable levels to populations whose expectations have been dampened by years of violence and corruption,” has helped the Islamic State in some respect look not much worse than what came before.

Finally….

Where do you run when the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse comes? While nowhere is totally safe from the hordes of the undead, a sampling of experts tell FP’s Reid Standish that your best bet would be to head to Siberia and Russia’s Far East. “The best areas to ride out the zombie apocalypse aren’t necessarily the least densely populated…They’re the areas that have the greatest distance from all other population centers,” said Matt Bierbaum, a doctorate student at Cornell University’s Department of Physics. Bookmark this story. It might come in handy some day.

 

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