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Israel’s raid on Syria (DISCUSSION & ANALYSIS)

Israel’s raid appears to have been intended to disrupt the ongoing offensive against ISIS but has provoked a powerful response.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Russians have now formally confirmed earlier media reports that following the Israeli air raid on Syria on Friday the Israeli ambassador in Moscow was called in to the Russian Foreign Ministry to be handed a stern lecture and a stiff protest.

Moscow’s confirmation of the Russian protest to Israel, and the fact that the Israeli ambassador was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry within hours of the raid taking place, shows how seriously the Russians are treating this incident.

What is most interesting – and worrying – about this incident is not whether or not an Israeli aircraft was shot down.  The Syrians regularly claim to have shot down Israel aircraft, and the Israelis equally regularly deny this was the case.  The Syrians have provided no evidence of any Israeli aircraft being shot down, and it is unlikely one was.

Rather what is worrying about this incident is that the Syrians claim that the air raid targeted Syrian military facilities near Palmyra – deep inside Syria – and that the Syrians were sufficiently concerned about the air strike that they in turn attempted to shoot the Israeli aircraft down whilst they were flying over Israeli territory.

To understand what happened it is necessary to piece together the facts of the incident to the extent that the limited information available makes that possible.

The first report of the incident was provided by the official Syrian news agency SANA, whose report reads as follows

According to a statement by the Command, the four Israeli aircrafts violated the Syrian airspace in al-Breij area through the Lebanese territories at 2:40 am.

The Israeli warplanes targeted a military site near Palmyra in the eastern countryside of Homs, said the Army’s Command, confirming that the Syria air defense forces confronted the enemy’s aircrafts and shot down one of them inside the occupied territories, hit another and forced the other two to withdraw.

“This blatant Israeli act of aggression came as part of the Zionist enemy’s persistence with supporting ISIS terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations,” the statement read.

From this report it appears that the Israeli aircraft did not penetrate deep into Syrian territory.  Rather it seems that the Israeli aircraft slipped across the border, almost immediately launched their missiles against their target, and then turned back home.

Probably the most accurate account of the Israeli aircraft movements during the raid is provided here

According the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), at 2:34 AM four Israeli jets flying at low altitude entered Lebanese airspace from the Mediterranean over the south Lebanese village of Al-Abbassiyeh. Though the LAF claims the jets turned back to Israel shortly afterwards, it appears they may have actually continued flying towards northeastern Lebanon. From there, according to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the jets entered Syria at 2:40 AM over the village of al-Bureij – across the border from northeastern Lebanon – and, using stand-off missiles, targeted a Syrian army position in the direction of Palmyra. Other pro-Assad sources claimed that nearby Beqaa Valley residents heard explosions at a target between the Lebanese border and Damascus. Though the Israeli army acknowledged – for the first time – that it had carried out the strike, it did not reveal any information on its targets.

The stand-off missiles the Israelis would have used would have been either Popeye missiles or – more probably – longer range Delilah cruise missiles, which undoubtedly do have the range to reach targets near Palmyra from the al-Bureij area.

The Syrians appear to have retaliated by launching S-200 (“SAM-5”) missiles at the Israeli aircraft after the raid as the aircraft were returning home to their bases.

The Syrians seem to have waited until the Israeli aircraft had recrossed the Lebanese border back into Israel before launching their missiles.  The SANA report clearly says that the air defence missiles were launched at the Israeli aircraft whilst they were over “occupied territory”, which might mean the West Bank or the Golan Heights, but more likely is intended to mean Israel itself (Syria has still not recognised Israel and officially considers the whole of Israel to be occupied Palestinian territory).

The Israelis claim that one of the Syrian air defence missiles launched at their aircraft was itself shot down by an Israeli Arrow-3 missile.

There is again no evidence of any Syrian missile being actually shot down, and as several people have pointed out, using an air defence missile designed to protect Israel from missiles launched at ground targets in order to shoot down an air defence missile launched unsuccessfully at an aircraft, on the face of it makes little sense.

If the Israelis did launch one of their Arrow-3 missiles at a Syrian S-200 missile that was attempting to shoot down one of their aicraft, then that suggests that they misidentified the Syrian missile, which in turn also suggests that they were taken by surprise and did not expect the Syrian response.

That a missile strike of some sort did take place over Israeli territory is however confirmed by eyewitness reports

A sonic boom could be heard in parts of Israel and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, sirens sounded in the Jordan Valley.

Clearly neither the Syrians nor the Israelis are being entirely forthcoming about what happened, but that this was an extremely serious incident is of no doubt.

The Israelis regularly carry out air strikes in Syria.  It is however a long time since they have launched a strike so deep into Syria as Palmyra.

The Israelis have not admitted that the target of the strike was near Palmyra.  However they have not denied it either, and unofficial reports from Israel suggest the target of the strike was in fact Syria’s Tiyas or T4 air base, which is located in the general area of Palmyra.

The Syrians in turn, though they make regular claim of having shot down Israeli aircraft overflying their territory, have not attempted to shoot down Israeli aircraft flying over Israeli territory for a very long time.  That they attempted to do so in this case, essentially ambushing Israeli aircraft as they were returning to their bases after the raid, shows both their anger at the raid and the significant recent increase in their capabilities, with the Syrians now able to track Israeli aircraft inside Israeli controlled territory after they complete their missions.

The Russians for their part have never been known to call in the Israeli ambassador over an Israeli air raid in Syria at any time since Russia began its intervention in Syria in September 2015.  That they have done so in this case shows how seriously they are treating this incident.

Lastly, the blustering response from the Israelis, with Netanyahu issuing thinly veiled warnings to Moscow and the Israelis bragging about their ability to destroy Syria’s air defences and threatening to do so “without the slightest hesitation”, suggests that they are rattled, and that they have been taken by surprise and are alarmed by the Syrian and Russian response.

The key to explaining this incident is the probable target of the raid: Syria’s Tiyas or T4 air base.

Contrary to some claims, the Tiyas air base has never been captured by ISIS or by any other Jihadi group, though ISIS did unsuccessfully attempt to capture it following its temporary capture of Palmyra last December.

Tiyas is one of Syria’s biggest air bases, and was the base from which the Syrian army launched its counter-offensive which recaptured Palmyra a few weeks ago.  Tiyas is now providing critical support to the ongoing Syrian military offensive against ISIS, whose ultimate objective appears to be the relief of the besieged eastern desert city of Deir Ezzor.

Unofficially, the Israelis always claim that their air strikes in Syria are intended to prevent weapons supplies to Hezbollah.  In this case unofficial claims are circulating in Israel that the air strike was intended to stop a handover of Scud missiles at the Tiyas air base by Syria to Hezbollah.

This is on the face of it extremely unlikely.  There are no reports of Hezbollah fighters present in any number near Palmyra or at the Tiyas base, or of them being involved in the ongoing Syrian military offensive against ISIS.  It is anyway unlikely that the Syrians would use the Tiyas air base – close to the front line in the fight against ISIS and far away from Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon – in order to supply Scud missiles to Hezbollah.  If the Syrians really were transferring such powerful weapons to Hezbollah, a far more likely place for them to do it would be Damascus.

A far more natural explanation for the Israeli raid is that it was intended to disrupt the ongoing Syrian army offensive against ISIS, which relies heavily on smooth operation of the Tiyas air base.  This after all is what the Syrian military is quoted by SANA (see above) as saying was the reason for the raid

“This blatant Israeli act of aggression came as part of the Zionist enemy’s persistence with supporting ISIS terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations.”

There have been persistent reports throughout the Syrian war that Israel would prefer a Jihadi victory or even an ISIS victory in Syria to the restoration of the Syrian government’s full control over Syria.

The Syrian government’s major regional allies are Iran and Hezbollah, which Israel has come to see as its major enemies, so the possibility that Israel might wish to see the Syrian government defeated is not in itself unlikely.  Possibly rather than an outright Jihadi victory, which might cause Israel serious problems in the future, what some tough minded people in Israel want is an indefinite prolongation of the war, so as to tie down the Syrian military, Hezbollah and Iran, preventing them from challenging Israel.

If that is indeed the thinking of some people in Tel Aviv, then it would explain the raid on the Tiyas air base.  It would however be an astonishingly reckless and cynical thing to do, to support an organisation like ISIS in order to disrupt the alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

Of course there is a widespread view that it was precisely in order to disrupt this alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah that the Syrian war was launched in the first place.   Whether or not that is so, and whether or not Israel had any part in that, the Israelis now need to reconsider their stance.  On any objective assessment their tactic of providing discrete backing to ISIS and to the other Jihadi groups fighting the Syrian government is achieving the opposite of Israel’s interests.

Instead of weakening or breaking the alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, the Syrian war has made it stronger, with Iran and Hezbollah both coming to Syria’s rescue, and Iraq increasingly cooperating with them in doing so.  The result is that Iran’s influence in Syria has grown stronger so that there is now even talk of Iran establishing a naval base in Syria, whilst Hezbollah is probably stronger than it has ever been before.

The Syrian military is also becoming significantly stronger, with the incident of the raid showing that technical help from Russia has now made it possible for the Syrians to track and intercept Israeli aircraft over Israeli territory.

The Syrian war has also caused Russia to intervene in Syria, making Russia a de facto ally of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

The result is that Russia is now busy establishing a massive air defence and military base complex in Syria, which for the first time has brought a military superpower with far greater technological and military resources than Israel’s own close to Israel’s border.

The result is that for the first time in its history – apart from the brief period of the so-called War of Attrition (‘Operation Kavkaz’) of 1970 – Israel’s military dominance in the region of the region is being seriously challenged.  Already there are reports that the Russian air defence system in Syria is too advanced for the Israelis to defeat, and that the Russians have the ability to track every single Israeli aircraft that takes off in Israel itself.

Lastly, the Russian protest to Israel on Friday shows that the Russians are prepared to speak up for Syria if it is being attacked or threatened.

Perpetual military confrontation with its neighbours is not the solution to Israel’s security problems.  Nor is the attempt to conjure up a witches’ brew of Jihadi terrorist groups in order to disrupt or destabilise them a good idea, whilst an outright alliance with groups like ISIS – however discretely it is done – is frankly a deeply immoral and appalling idea.

It is to be sincerely hoped that following the incident on Friday there are some cooler heads in Israel that are able to see this.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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