Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

The U.S. Navy Must Be Everywhere at Once

April 28, 2017

A recent mishap with the USS Carl Vinson is a case study for rebuilding the fleet to about 350 ships.

The USS Bataan fires a missile during exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, Jan. 11.

The USS Bataan fires a missile during exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, Jan. 11. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was steaming toward North Korea, the Trump administration insisted two weeks ago. Except that it wasn’t. A Navy press photo showed it thousands of miles away, near Indonesia, and heading south. The official explanation was that the Carl Vinson had to complete a scheduled joint exercise with Australia before turning back to deal with the imminent threat to world peace. The error was compounded by President Trump’s statement that he would be sending submarines “far more powerful than an aircraft carrier”—which is of course absurd.

This episode is a small symptom of America’s weakened Navy. Today, as in the 1920s and ’30s, Washington has forgotten Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to speak softly and carry a big stick. Instead the U.S. lashes out at adversaries with ultimatums, sanctions and embargoes while disarming. Although all branches of the military went through budget and personnel cuts under the Obama administration, the Navy fared the worst. Today the American fleet is less than half the size it was under President Reagan.

Two independent bipartisan commissions have called for the fleet to be increased from its roughly 270 ships to 350, a number President Trump has said he supports. The Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment calls for 355 ships. These proposals weigh budget constraints; otherwise the target would be higher.

During the 1960s the fleet numbered above 800. But after the Vietnam War, the U.S. sought a “peace dividend” and ordered the Navy to do more with less. Historically, a sailor’s maximum deployment was six months away from family in any 18-month period. Today deployments stretch to nine months or longer. Skilled sailors are being worn out, and many of the best are leaving. We have too few ships on too many crucial missions. Without the funding to keep them in repair, they deploy without being combat-ready and are eventually forced into early retirement. Many of the Navy’s combat aircraft are unable to fly without awaiting parts and repair.

Thankfully, Mr. Trump has promised to bolster America’s defenses as Reagan did in the 1980s. Let us hope for a bipartisan defense recovery. The first priority must be for the White House to settle on a national strategy to replace the ad hoc decision-making of the past 20 years. Then the new Navy secretary and the chief of naval operations can create a comprehensive naval strategy to match. This process will provide a framework to prioritize Navy and Marine programs.

As in the Reagan years, there are opportunities to rebuild rapidly. At least eight Perry-class frigates could be reactivated, along with a similar number of Aegis cruisers and a half-dozen supply ships. These combat craft were retired early, some at only half their service life. Outfitting them with updated weapons could create immediate work at ports on all three coasts.

The next step is to reform the overgrown defense bureaucracy and overhaul the Pentagon’s dysfunctional procurement process. According to the Government Accountability Office, cost overruns have ballooned to more than $450 billion over the past two decades. The Navy needs to take authority back from the bureaucracy, end the culture of constant design changes and gold-plating, and bring back fixed-price competition.

Recall the development of the Polaris nuclear-missile system in the late 1950s. The whole package—a nuclear submarine, a solid-fuel missile, an underwater launch system, a nuclear warhead and a guidance system—went from the drawing board to deployment in four years (and using slide rules). Today, according to the Defense Business Board, the average development timeline for much less complex weapons is 22.5 years.

A case in point is the Ford-class aircraft carrier. The program is two years delayed and $2.4 billion over budget. The ship was designed to include 12 new technologies, such as electric instead of steam catapults that had not yet been developed. Many of these systems don’t work after 10 years of trying, and the ship will be delivered to the Navy without fully functional radar and unable to launch or recover aircraft. Yet the defense firms involved still profit under cost-plus contracts.

The three stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers—they are really heavy cruisers—are another example. The defense bureaucracy produced a seagoing camel costing three times its original estimate and delivered with questionable seaworthiness and without functional radar or a reliable propulsion system. The program should be terminated and the three contracted ships kept purely for special operations.

The Navy urgently needs to replace the Perry-class frigates, built in the 1980s and now all retired. Instead of designing a ship from scratch, the Navy could update the Perry plans to include modern sonar, radar and missiles. Or it could adapt one of two European frigates for American construction. The 26 small coastal LCS ships now under contract are enough. That design cannot be modified into a frigate, so the program should be terminated.

The Navy is also short on aircraft, with roughly half the number needed to maintain even the current force structure. The Pentagon should make the F-35 compete against the F-18 to establish the optimum—and lowest-cost—mix of both aircraft. In the future, drones will play an important role on carriers and may evolve into the dominant system. But that day is not yet here.

President Reagan showed that 90% of the benefits from restoring American command of the seas are reaped immediately. President Trump will learn the same. Russia, with its professional but small one-carrier navy, cannot challenge a rebuilt U.S. Navy. The Chinese are at least two decades away from matching American capabilities. With renewed commitment to naval and military superiority, American diplomacy will instantly regain credibility.

Mr. Lehman, secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, is the author of the forthcoming “Oceans Ventured, Oceans Gained” (W.W. Norton).

Appeared in the Apr. 28, 2017, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-u-s-navy-must-be-everywhere-at-once-1493331502

Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief says

April 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

THE HAGUE (AFP) – 

Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday.

Director general Ahmet Uzumcu said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In the “second part of 2016, 30 different incidents, and since the beginning of this year, 15 separate incidents, so 45,” he told a reporters, brandishing a list of several pages which he chose to keep confidential.

They include the April 4 sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that was reported to have killed 88 people, including 31 children.

“All these allegations are recorded by our experts, who follow this every day from our operations centre,” Uzumcu said.

The OPCW is currently trying to ensure it is safe enough to deploy its fact-finding team to the town for further analysis, after Uzumcu said last week that “incontrovertible” test results from OPCW-designated labs on samples taken from victims showed sarin gas or a similar substance had been used.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “already stated that they would support this mission, actually they have invited us to go via Damascus,” he said.

“The problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary ceasefire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do,” he added.

“If we can put all this together then we will deploy. The team is ready, and we have the volunteers.”

However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shayrat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs.

The base was the target of a US strike launched in the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, and Russia has called for the allegations that it was stocking chemical weapons to be investigated.

Uzumcu also confirmed that the OPCW, based in The Hague, believed jihadist rebels from the so-called Islamic State group had used “sulphur mustard” near Iraq’s second city of Mosul last week.

The Iraqi military said some security personnel were injured in the April 15 attack as part of the operation to recapture Mosul.

The OPCW has offered to help Iraqi forces investigate, but “they have not yet requested any assistance,” Uzumcu said.

Israel’s Attack in Syria: Israel’s Policy of Ambiguity Could Be Nearing an End — Proxy “War” With Iran — Has Russia Allowed Israel’s Raids?

April 28, 2017

By Amos Harel

Strike in Damascus international airport attributed to Israel ■ Why isn’t Russia taking action? ■ defense chief draws a new red line: No Iranian and Hezbollah military presence on the Syrian border

Explosion in Syria

Explosion in Syria . (photo credit:ARAB MEDIA)

Witnesses said a total of five strikes occurred near the Damascus airport road, about 25km from the capital, early on Thursday.

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Iranian cargo planes land in Damascus hours before ‘Israeli strike’ on airport

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Syria confirms Israeli strike hit military compound near Damascus airport

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Israel destroyed dozens of Hezbollah-bound missiles in last Syria raid, officer says

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What has been done up to now with a degree of ambiguity, not to say discretion, is now being done for all to see. Syria confirmed on Thursday, in a report from its official news agency, that the Israeli airforce struck a military compound next to the Damascus airport before dawn.

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Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz implicitly acknowledged Israeli responsibility for the strike when he explained in a somewhat sleepy radio interview from the United States on Army Radio that “the incident totally fits with our policy for preventing weapons transfers to Hezbollah.” And all of this happened while Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was away on a visit to Russia, the chief sponsor of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Katz’s comments followed an earlier, first acknowledgement of its kind by Israel, after numerous reports in the Arab media of an Israeli airstrike in Syria in late March. And this past Tuesday, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer told journalists that about a hundred missiles, some intended for Hezbollah, were destroyed in that March airstrike. But it is still not certain that a deliberate decision has been made to abandon the policy of ambiguity that Israel has adhered to for the past five years, neither denying nor confirming its responsibility for such air strikes.

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This policy of ambiguity seems to be based on the idea that Israel’s refusal to comment on these strikes makes them less of an embarrassment for the regime and thus does not whet the Syrians’ appetite for revenge as much. The recent deviations from this policy were likely random occurrences and not the product of long-range strategic thinking.

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An Israeli tank on the Golan Heights

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The initial reports from Damascus did not specify what types of weaponry was hit. Arab intelligence sources (quoted by an Amman-based reporter for Reuters) claimed that the targets this time were arms shipments from Iran being smuggled on civilian commercial flights via the international airport in Damascus.

Syrian reports denied that Israeli planes had penetrated Syrian airspace, and claimed their bombs were launched from within Israeli territory. This could explain the lack of an antiaircraft missile response from the Syrian and Russian air defenses, although Russian radar in northwest Syria can also identify aircraft movements in much of Israel.

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Why isn’t Russia taking action? After the March airstrike, Russia reportedly protested to Israel that the Syrian target in the Palmyra area came too close to a Russian military base. Possibly, Russia doesn’t really care that much, as long as these actions don’t directly threaten the Assad regime’s survival. Most of the Russian troops and aircraft are in the northwest, in the area of Tartus and Latakia, and hardly Israeli strikes have been reported in that area since the start of the Russian military deployment in September 2015.

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On the tactical level, Russia and Israel seem to be getting along quite well amid the general Syrian chaos. The military coordination mechanism for preventing aerial clashes between the two countries is working properly and Israeli officials, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have held frequent consultations with their Russian counterparts. But on the long-term, strategic level, Israel has a problem: Russia’s military success in the war means the salvation of the Assad regime and a gain for Assad’s other allies, Iran and Hezbollah. Should Russia decide to promote the interests of these other members of the Assad alliance, it could come at Israel’s expense.

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In his talks in Russia, Lieberman has been emphasizing the new red line drawn by Israel: no Iranian or Hezbollah military presence near the Syrian border on the Golan Heights. As Assad’s forces have advanced southward, there have been initial reports of the arrival of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and related Shi’ite and Palestinian militias in the border area, mainly in the northern Golan Heights. Besides the arms smuggling, this is the matter of greatest concern for Israel right now. Should it decide to take action to enforce its stance, as Lieberman has spoken about, Israel will have to weigh the possibility not only of heightened friction with Iran, but also of a shift in relations with Moscow.

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read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/1.786074

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Did Moscow Green-Light an Israeli Attack in Syria?

The Kremlin may be backing Bashar al-Assad and publicly denouncing Israel’s strike on Damascus’ airport Thursday, but the two sides are ‘tightly’ coordinating behind the scenes.
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By Benny Avni

An Israeli attack in Damascus on Thursday was evidently well coordinated with Russia, highlighting how transient alliances in the Middle East’s most consequential war can be.

Israel, in addition to Sunni Muslim countries opposed to the Syrian regime, is America’s close regional ally, while Russia backs some of Israel’s most formidable foes: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah.

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Loud explosions were reported near Damascus’ international airport Thursday morning, reportedly injuring three people.

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Syrian officials were quick to blame Israel for the attack, and in an apparent attempt to retaliate, an “object”—reportedly a drone—was sent over the Golan Heights that was destroyed by an Israeli Defense Force Patriot missile, according to an IDF spokesman.

Although Jerusalem officials normally refrain from confirming such attacks like the one in Damascus, this time they did not quite deny it.

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“The incident in Syria is consistent with our policy of preventing the smuggling of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told Israel’s Army Radio. He declined, in accordance with the long-held policy, to explicitly confirm that the IDF conducted the attack.

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 Image result for syrian aircraft at russian base, photos

Three weeks ago, in a rare departure from that Jerusalem’s policy of ambiguity, Israeli officials did acknowledge they fired missiles at Syrian targets. In Moscow, Kremlin officials publicly denounced that Israeli attack, leading some in Jerusalem to speculate that the tacit understanding between Jerusalem and Moscow could be at an end and that the Kremlin would no longer wink and nod at Israel’s routine incursions into Syria’s airspace, largely dominated by Russian and Syrian government air forces.

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On Thursday Russian spokesmen denounced the attack as well, though they were careful not to confirm Israel was behind it. And when asked Thursday whether Israel had notified Moscow in advance of the strike, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Kremlin reporters that “Russia and Israel exchange information using various channels.”

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One likely such channel, according to Jerusalem sources, is Avigdor Liberman, the Russian-speaking, Moldovan-born Israeli defense minister who landed in Moscow on Wednesday for a pre-planned visit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also speaks to Putin on the phone regularly and often visits Moscow.

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“The Russians know that our most important ally is the United States, and we know, of course, that Russia’s clients are Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah,” said an Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Yet, he added, “that doesn’t stop us from tightly coordinating with Moscow through well-established work mechanisms.”

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The IDF and Russia want to ensure there are no collisions in the skies above Syria, the official added, saying, “And yes, the Russians are very familiar with our red lines.”

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Those red lines include “preventing Iran from establishing a military foothold in Syria,” Katz, the intelligence minister, told The Daily Beast last week. Additionally, he said, Jerusalem has made clear it will not allow Iran to transfer heavy armaments through Syria to Hezbollah, which he characterized as “our most formidable non-state enemy.”

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 Hezbollah fighters. Reuters photo
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Speaking to the UN Security Council last week, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington and its partners will resume their pressure on Tehran, documenting violations of several council resolutions that ban arms transfers from Iran to Hezbollah, as well as to its Yemen-based ally, the Houthis.

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Hours after Thursday’s Israeli attack in Damascus, Russian diplomats exchanged barbs with their British and French counterparts at the United Nations, while Haley sharpened her criticism of the Kremlin’s Syria policy.

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During a Security Council session on humanitarian aid to Syria, Haley blamed Russia for shielding Assad, even as the Syrian dictator prevents UN aid from reaching its destination and bombs hospitals. “Many of you said we need to put pressure on the Syrian regime,” she said. “That’s actually not the case. We need to put pressure on Russia, because Russia continues to cover for the Syrian regime”—does so even when Assad “uses chemical weapons on his own people.”

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The French UN ambassador, François Delattre, told reporters Thursday that Paris has conclusively determined that in a well-publicized April 4 attack at Khan Sheikhun, in Syria’s Idlib province, “sarin was used, and the presence of a substance called hexamine is characteristic of the sarin produced by the Syrian regime.” So, he added, “we have no doubt that the Syrian regime is responsible for this barbaric attack.”

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The United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles in response to that chemical assault, hitting a Syrian airbase that according to Pentagon officials was used to launch the Idlib attack.

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On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said that if Washington asked London to join in future military attacks against Syria, “It would be difficult for us to say no.”

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But Washington has yet to clarify its ultimate goal in Syria—and particularly its policy on Assad’s future, despite the atrocities he has committed. President Trump, who hosted the 15 members of the Security Council at the White House last week, said that while the Syrian dictator is clearly a “bad actor,” his removal “is not a deal breaker” for the U.S., according to an ambassador who attended the session. However, the ambassador, who requested anonymity, said that at a later session National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told the visiting diplomats, “There can be no stable Syria as long as Assad stays in power.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/04/27/did-moscow-green-light-an-israeli-attack-in-syria.html

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Hezbollah Air Lines? Boeing Deal?

Israel Shoots Down Suspected Drone — Israel says it will not allow “concentration of Iranian or Hezbollah forces on the Golan border.”

April 27, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | According to the official Israeli army Twitter account “The Patriot Aerial Defence System intercepted a target above the Golan Heights”

JERUSALEM (AFP) – 

Israel shot down what it identified only as “a target” over the occupied Golan Heights on Thursday, hours after Syria accused it of hitting a military position near Damascus airport.

“The Patriot Aerial Defence System intercepted a target above the Golan Heights,” the official Israeli army Twitter account said, without elaborating.

A military spokeswoman refused to comment on Israeli media reports that the object was a drone.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said earlier that several Israeli missiles hit near Damascus airport at dawn.

Israel has not confirmed or denied the reported Damascus attack.

But Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said it was consistent with Israel’s policy to prevent arms transfers through to Hezbollah, while stopping short of confirming his country was behind the incident.

“We are acting to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran,” Katz told army radio.

“When we receive serious information about the intention to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, we will act. This incident is totally consistent with this policy.”

In Moscow, the Kremlin called for restraint and the foreign ministry condemned the attack.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say if Israel had warned Moscow of the strike, saying only that their defence ministries “are in constant dialogue”.

In Moscow, visiting Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that the Jewish state would not allow “concentration of Iranian or Hezbollah forces on the Golan border,” Lieberman?s office said.

Israel has conducted multiple air strikes in Syria since that country’s civil war erupted in 2011, most of which it has said targeted arms convoys or warehouses of its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah, which is a key supporter of the Syrian regime.

Last month, it said it had carried out several strikes near the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, targeting what it said were “advanced weapons” belonging to Hezbollah.

The strikes prompted Syria to launch ground-to-air missiles, one of which was intercepted over Israeli territory in the most serious flare-up between the two neighbours since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Around 510 square kilometres of the Golan are under Syrian control.

The two countries are still technically at war, although the border remained largely quiet for decades until 2011, when the Syrian conflict broke out.

What Trump’s Early Days Tell Us About His Path Forward

April 27, 2017

President’s grades mean less than what he learns about how best to operate

President Donald Trump, shown in February.

President Donald Trump, shown in February. PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Updated April 27, 2017 11:55 a.m. ET

As the Trump presidency’s 100-day mark arrives, here’s a little secret: That opening stretch often is a rocky one for new presidents.

Bill Clinton suffered through a botched economic-stimulus package, a controversy over gays in the military and a White House travel-office scandal. George H.W. Bush made what turned out to be a disastrous pick for defense secretary.

If you reach back further, John Kennedy made a historic blunder by approving the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, a failure that continued to haunt him.

President Donald Trump’s journey through 100 days has been notably messy, of course. His most important legislative effort, on health care, collapsed at the hands of members of his own party, while a travel ban on select Muslim-majority countries stalled in the courts. His national-security adviser was fired in a controversy over contacts with Russian officials. He leveled an unsubstantiated accusation that his predecessor tapped his phones. He set a record for early job disapproval.

Yet he has been more effective on other fronts. With less notice, he has begun a broad rollback of regulations, in part through use of a long-dormant law that allows elimination of past regulatory directives, to the cheers of the business community. His team got a respected Supreme Court nominee through the Senate. Ditching campaign-season impulses, he launched a strike at Syria over its use of chemical weapons, and built what seems to be a solid relationship with China’s president.

So the debate is on over what Mr. Trump has and hasn’t done at the much-hyped 100-day milestone. But history suggests that the precise balance sheet at 100 days means less than what has been learned about how a new president operates—and what kinds of adjustments he makes based on those opening lessons.

Ronald Reagan used his opening 100 days to build an effective legislative coalition of fellow Republicans and conservative Democrats. That coalition implemented his broad agenda in his first year—and then was useful the following year when he needed to roll back some of his signature tax cuts to shrink the deficit. He also began learning that allowing multiple, competing power centers inside his White House wouldn’t work.

Mr. Kennedy learned not to put unquestioned trust in military leaders and to put stock in his own instincts. That proved useful in guiding him through the Cuban missile crisis that came later.

Mr. Clinton learned he needed to impose more order on his personal and political world. He did, and ended up overseeing a prospering economy and largely successful presidency—although that lack of personal discipline returned to haunt him in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Those early lessons are the ones that proved prescient in the past. So the important question at this point may be less what did or didn’t happen in Mr. Trump’s first 100 days, but what we know about the new presidency—and what lessons the president might walk away with himself.

We know that Mr. Trump is a restless activist who doesn’t abide by the rules, for better and for worse. His presidency will never be quiet. The risk for him now is that the volume and looseness of his running commentary will undermine his ability to communicative effectively, at home and abroad, when it’s urgent to do so.

Yet we also know he can curb his impulses, if he really wants to. He has gone stretches without indulging in his Twitter addiction. He can lean toward more of a conventional style when he wants to. He bashes the press yet also is open to it in a way few of his predecessors were.

Perhaps more important, he has allowed a cadre of more conventional advisers—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, economic adviser Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin —to accumulate increasing influence. Whether that continues is a key indicator for the next 100 days.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Trump is hitting the 100-day mark without a clear governing coalition. Republicans’ control of the White House and both houses of Congress created an expectation that getting things done might be easy, but the early failure on the Obamacare repeal showed that he can’t count on support from his party’s most conservative wing.

At the same time, he hasn’t managed to win meaningful Democratic support, outside of cheers for the Syria strike. The polarizing effect of his opening days has made that task tougher; Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez, in his own 100-days message, called on Democrats “to keep resisting for the next hundred, and the hundred after that, and on until Donald Trump is out of office for good.”

The foremost presidential challenge​ for the next hundred days and beyond is to get Washington beyond the dangers of paralyzing polarization.​

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
Gary Cohn is a White House economic adviser. An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave his last name as Cohen. (April 27, 2017)

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-trumps-early-days-tell-us-about-his-path-forward-1493285403

‘Huge’ blasts near Damascus airport blamed on Israeli strike — Israeli Intelligence Minister appears to confirm Israeli strike on Syria

April 27, 2017

Illustrative photo of flames and smoke at the Mezzeh military airport on the southwestern outskirts of the capital Damascus following an explosion early on January 13, 2017. (AFP)

April 27, 2017, 6:56 am
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Unnamed regional intelligence source says raid targeted Hezbollah weapons depot

Explosions were heard near Damascus’s airport on Thursday morning, in what some local Arabic-language media reports blamed on an Israeli airstrike.

An unnamed regional intelligence source, quoted by Reuters, said the strike was carried out by Israel and targeted an Iran-supplied Hezbollah arms depot.

The Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar news site also attributed the raid to Israel.

“Al-Manar’s correspondent reported that an explosion struck at dawn on Thursday in fuel tanks and a warehouse near Damascus International Airport and that it was probably the result of an Israeli strike,” the channel said.

It said it caused only material damage.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman said the explosion early Thursday has been heard across the capital, jolting residents awake.

“The blast was huge and could be heard in Damascus,” he said.

Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, said the explosion near the airport road was followed by flames rising above the area. A pro-government site Damascus Now said the explosion was near the city’s Seventh Bridge, which leads to the airport road.

Some opposition-linked media reports blamed the attack on Israel, saying an initial missile strike against a weapons warehouse belonging to government forces caused fuel silos to explode, leading to a cascade of explosions that damaged a few nearby homes.

Explosions were also reported in the Al-Mazzeh area of the Syrian capital, apparently at the Mazzeh Air Base, a military airstrip used by regime forces.

There was no immediate confirmation of the cause for the explosions from either Syrian or Israeli sources.

Video shows moments explosions start near Damascus airport tonight. Local media attributing to Israel. More details likely to emerge later.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

In April 2016, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.

Late last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/report-explosions-near-damascus-airport-may-be-israeli-airstrike/

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Intelligence minister appears to confirm Israeli strike on Syria

Yisrael Katz says preventing weapons from reaching Hezbollah is ‘completely compatible’ with Jerusalem’s policy; terror group says raid ‘probably’ by Jewish state

April 27, 2017, 9:53 am

A photo taken from the rebel-held town of Douma shows flames rising in the distance which are believed to be coming from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)

A photo taken from the rebel-held town of Douma shows flames rising in the distance which are believed to be coming from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Thursday appeared to confirm reports that Israel was behind an overnight airstrike near the Damascus airport.

Katz, who is also transportation minister, told Army Radio in an interview Thursday morning that “the incident is completely compatible with our policy of preventing weapons transfer to Hezbollah,” the Lebanon-based terror group supported by the Syrian regime and Iran.

“Every time we receive intelligence information on plans to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, we will act,” the minister added. “We must prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.”

Explosions rocked the area around Damascus’s airport earlier on Thursday morning, setting off fires.

An unnamed regional intelligence source, quoted by Reuters, said the strike was carried out by Israel and targeted an Iran-supplied Hezbollah arms depot.

The Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar news site also attributed the raid to the Jewish state.

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 photo, Israel's transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP/Dan Balilty)

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 photo, Israel’s transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP/Dan Balilty)

saying an initial missile strike against a weapons warehouse belonging to government forces caused fuel silos to explode, leading to a cascade of explosions that damaged a few nearby homes.

Explosions were also reported in the Al-Mazzeh area of the Syrian capital, apparently at the Mazzeh Air Base, a military airstrip used by regime forces.

Video shows moments explosions start near Damascus airport tonight. Local media attributing to Israel. More details likely to emerge later.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

In April 2016, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.

Late last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.

The alleged Israeli airstrike on Thursday came a day after Liberman met with Russian ministers in Moscow. Despite Russia’s alliance with both Iran and Hezbollah, Israel and Russia have maintained a level of security coordination in order to prevent conflicts between their two militaries in Syria, where Moscow is fighting against opponents of the Assad regime.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/intelligence-minister-appears-to-confirm-israeli-strike-on-syria/

 

‘Israeli strikes’ hit arms depot in Damascus

April 27, 2017

Arms depot near Damascus International airport goes up in flames after series of overnight strikes blamed on Israel.

Al Jazeera

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A target near Damascus airport highway was struck early on Thursday [File: Khaled Al Hariri/Reuters]
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Israeli air strikes have hit an arms depot operated by the Lebanese Hezbollah group near Damascus airport, Syrian opposition sources told Al Jazeera.

Explosion in Syria

Explosion in Syria . (photo credit:ARAB MEDIA)

Witnesses said a total of five strikes occurred near the Damascus airport road, about 25km from the capital, early on Thursday.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from the Turkish city of Gaziantep near Syria’s border, said opposition activists posted pictures online showing a huge fire near the area.

Allegedly video of the International Airport tonight on fire after what are claimed to be Israeli airstrikes.

“There is no official comment from the Syrian government,” Ahelbarra said.

“We do understand that the Israelis have been carrying out air strikes in the past. The last one was in January targeting the Mezze military base.

“In 2015 they also launched attacks near the capital Damascus and in the Golan Heights, killing two prominent Hezbollah commanders, including Jihad Mughniya who is the son of the top military commander of Hezbollah Imad Mughniya who was also killed in Damascus in 2008,” Ahelbarra said.

‘We will act’

Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, speaking from the United States where he has been meeting US officials, told Israeli Army Radio: “I can confirm that the incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah … Naturally, I don’t want to elaborate on this.

“The prime minister has said that whenever we receive intelligence that indicated an intention to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, we will act.” Katz added.

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment.

.Aftermath of explosion near Damascus International Airport 

Aftermath of explosion near Damascus International Airport  CREDIT: REUTERS

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Reuters news agency, citing an intelligence source, said the depot that was targeted handles a significant amount of weapons that Tehran, a major regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sends regularly by air.

The source said the arms depot gets a major part of the weapons supplied to an array of Iranian backed armed groups, led by Hezbollah, which have thousands of fighters engaged in battle against Syrian rebels.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the blasts were heard across the capital, jolting residents awake.

Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, said the explosions near the airport road were followed by flames rising above the area.

Previous Israeli strikes

In May 2013 Israel struck three areas in Damascus suburbs, allegedly to destroy Iranian rockets being delivered to Hezbollah. Damascus airport was also hit by Israel in May 2013.

The Syrian army said on January 13, 2016 that Israel had targeted the Mezze military airbase. Mezze airbase is just a few kilometers from the presidential palace.

Israel has in the past targeted Hezbollah positions inside Syria where Iranian backed groups are heavily involved in the fighting.

The Syrian government warned in January that it would retaliate against any attack targeting its own areas.

Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar TV channel said the dawn raid struck fuel tanks and a warehouse near Damascus International Airport and that it was probably the result of an Israeli strike.

It added that initial indications were that the blast had caused only material damage and not deaths.

Source: Al Jazeera News

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/explosion-damascus-international-airport-170427040751494.html

Related:

See also:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/27/damascus-airport-rocked-israel-air-strike-arms-depot/

Reports that Israel air raid strikes hit Damascus International Airport

April 27, 2017

BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:35 A.M.) – Preliminary reports have emerged that an Israeli air raid has targeted Damascus International Airport or its perimeters.

This cannot be independently verified by Al-Masdar News at this moment however.

Photos have emerged of burning fuel or gas at the international airport.

Breaking , an Explosion Around Damascus International Airport.

report about an Israeli raid .. Not confirmed

Photo shows Burning of fuel or gas near Damascus International Airport … pic.twitter.com/zriL2t4tS0

View image on Twitter

The reports say that there were five airstrikes against the airport or its vicinity.

It has not been revealed yet the nature of the damage to the airport, but the strikes occurred at around 03:25 A.M. local time.

The Damascus International Airport is still used for civilian flights, including routes to Qamishli in Syria’s northeast, Tehran in Iran and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/breaking-reports-israel-air-raid-strikes-damascus-international-airport/

See also:

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Arab-media-claims-Israeli-airstrike-hit-Damascus-airport-489100

Israel says it uncovered planned mass cyber attacks

April 26, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Israel is a global player in the cyber-security industry with about 400 specialist companies

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli authorities said on Wednesday that they had detected planned cyber attacks against 120 public and private targets in the Jewish state but did not specify the intended victims.

A statement from Israel’s National Authority for Cyber Defence said that “in recent days” it had uncovered plans for a mass e-mail attack by what it described as an assailant masquerading as a “legitimate organisation” using a bogus security certificate.

It did not say what countermeasures it had taken but said the attacks threatened “government ministries, public institutions and private individuals”.

Haaretz newspaper said that the attackers “tried to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Word.”

In November two main Israeli TV newscasts were taken over by hackers who beamed an Islamist message threatening divine fire against the Jewish state.

Hackers ostensibly supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad posted messages on an Israeli army Twitter account during the 2014 Gaza war and in 2012 hackers disrupted the websites of the Tel Aviv stock exchange and national airline El Al.

Israel is a global player in the cyber-security industry, with about 400 specialist companies.

Its success is partly due to graduates of elite army units who take their electronic warfare skills with them into civilian life at the end of their military service.

jlr/hj/scw/jod/dr

French intelligence says Assad forces behind April 4 sarin attack

April 26, 2017

Reuters

FILE PHOTO: A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah/File Photo

French intelligence services have concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or his closest entourage ordered the strike, a declassified report showed.

The attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people and prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response, its first direct assault on the Assad government in the conflict.

The six-page document – drawn up by France’s military and foreign intelligence services and seen by said it was able to reach its conclusion based on samples they had obtained from the impact strike on the ground, and a blood sample from a victim.

Among the elements found in the samples were hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government.

“The French intelligence services consider that only Bashar al-Assad and some of his most influential entourage can give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report said.

It added that jihadist groups in the area did not have the capacity to develop and launch such an attack and that Islamic State was not in the region.

Assad’s claim to AFP news agency on April 13 that the attack was fabricated, was “not credible” given the mass flows of casualties in a short space of time arriving in Syrian and Turkish hospitals as well as the sheer quantity of online activity showing people with neurotoxic symptoms, said the report.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus)