Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
September 11, 2007

Another Middle East Mystery

What and why did Israel bomb in Syria?

Last weeks attack on something in Syria by the Israeli Air Force is quite mysterious. That such an attack happened is obvious. Turkey found external fuel tanks of an Israeli jet that had fallen on its soil near the Syrian border. Military aircrafts jettison their externals tanks to gain maneuverability when under fire.

According to a fresh CNN report based on U.S. sources:

[T]he sources told CNN the military operation, which happened Wednesday into Thursday, may have also involved Israeli ground forces who directed the airstrike which "left a big hole in the desert" in Syria.

The strike may have targeted Hezbollah weapons coming into Syria or transiting through the country from Iran -- a pattern over the past three or four years which has occurred without any retaliation or action taken against it -- the sources said.

The Israeli government is very happy with the success of the operation, the sources said.

Maybe too many may inthere to take that serious. Israeli sources are unusual silent about the strike. The Israeli papers only quote foreign sources. A certain sign that the military censors are supressing something.

Flanking Israel's agression John Bolton is back at his usual racket of spreading lies. After claiming that Saddam's alleged WMD's were transfered to Syria, he is now suggesting that North Korean nuclear and missile production assets have been transfered to Syria and Iran. One wonders why people like Joshua Landis take this seriously.

For the IAF the recent operation has to be seen as a failure. Last year it was possible for them to buzz the Syrian president's summer palace without any trouble. This time the Syrians did detect their planes and even were able to defend themselves to some extend. Also a new 'big hole in the desert', if true, is certainly not the intended effect.

To the understandable frustration of the Syrian government the international community is totally quiet about Israel's aggressive act. There was a shameful, telling event on how this works:

At a joint news conference in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asked her Portuguese counterpart to refrain from commenting on the incident. After Minister Luis Amado, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Union, was asked for the EU's stance on the incident, Livni interrupted the discussion and signaled to Amado not to answer.

"I do not believe any statement by any party could help matters," Livni explained before moving on to the next question. "I find it ponderous that you should expect me to comment on this. You already know our position on the subject."

Since when is the Israeli foreign minister to decide what the EU is saying or not? Oh well ...

In what might have been a response to the Israeli attack on Syria, some splitter group in Gaza fired a rocket into an Israeli military camp. 69 Israeli soldiers were wounded though only 4 of them seriously. (Note how again Israel designates any soldier in need of a band aid as 'wounded'.)

The typical Israeli reaction to such an event would have been an overt attack on Gaza. But for some ominous reason the Israeli military is holding back.

There will be no major IDF response to Qassam strike in Negev due to tensions in north, Haaretz analyzes. But why does the Israeli army need all it has on the border to Syria? This when it also claims that there are no signs of Syrian preparations for war?

If the Syrians refrain from retaliating for the air strikes, which they will for lack of capacity, why is the Israeli army preparing to fight on or from the Golan heights?

Posted by b on September 11, 2007 at 17:04 UTC | Permalink


It is very bizarre and thanks for providing a post about this very significant incident. I agree that it's weird that Landis took the Bolton stuff seriously -- that stuff about NoKo weapons in Syria seems like clear propaganda to me. On the other hand, I don't agree that the operation was a failure. Israeli officials have been far to smug, blase, and self-satisfied -- think Cheshire cat -- for that.

But... what was it?

We need to keep digging to learn more.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 11 2007 18:10 utc | 1

If this has been a strategic success for Israel it would have rushed to announce the operation to the world, as they did immediately after bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Sep 11 2007 19:02 utc | 2

The Jerusalem Post report of today includes a map which makes it crystal clear just how far into Syria the jets went -- nearly clear across the entire country.

The article also says the US has proclaimed itself "pleased" with the episode because it has sent a "clear message to the region." Whatever that means.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 11 2007 19:09 utc | 3

Asia Times has a good long piece on this today by a correspondent in Damascus. It lists some theories on what occurred:

If both countries want peace, as the official version implies, then what exactly happened on September 6? One theory says Israel wanted to test Syrian defenses, especially after reports that Damascus had received new ballistic missiles from Russia. The objectives of the intrusion would be to "feel the waters" before Israel actually engaged in war with the Syrians. This was seconded by Israeli counter-terrorism expert Boaz Ganor, who said his country was "collecting intelligence on long-range missiles" deployed by Syria in the north.

A second theory - less credible - claims that Israel wanted to see whether its warplanes could reach Iran without being spotted by Syrian radar. This was in preparation for an upcoming war that Jerusalem expects between the US and Iran.

A third theory claims that Israel was searching for military training bases for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. A fourth claims that the operation was nothing more than a provocation aimed at showing the Syrians that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were on alert and had "recovered" from their summer war with Hezbollah last year. The Israelis wanted to see how Syria would respond....

Syria believes that the operation was a "diplomatic and military experiment" to test how Syria would react.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 11 2007 19:21 utc | 4

A source (not one I am familiar with, but it appears at least to be reliable) that agrees with my sense that this mission was a success:

An even more likely scenario, however, is that the flights were reconnaissance missions designed to gather specific military intelligence rather than to send a coded message. Syria has received from Russia a sophisticated new anti-aircraft weapon known as the Pantsyr S1E air defense system. Israeli military officials were said to look particularly happy after last week's incident, indicating that whatever the objective of the mission, the result had been viewed favorably. Some believe Israel actually destroyed the Pantsyrs. Syria said it fired on the Israeli planes, but the planes made it home safely. At the very least, Israel may have learned that it can successfully evade or jam the Pantsyrs. The more interesting question is why Israel considers this such an important objective.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 11 2007 19:37 utc | 5

One more comment: B, if you could add two maps to this post, the one linked to above that shows the flight plan of the jets, alongside one of the entire Middle East (to show the relationship of the flight plan to that which Israel would take en route to hitting Iran, and the possibility that this was a test of a flight plan), that would be a great enhancement.

Just a thought.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 11 2007 19:42 utc | 6

The JPost map is the version according to Syria's foreign minister, meaning even he concedes that they flew across the country and back. Even if they failed to destroy any target, that's pretty disconcerting.

Still, only 10 of the new Pantsyr SAMs that Syria bought have been delivered and only a few weeks ago. According to Debka (FWIW) they were stationed in the south east at the Syrian-Jordanian-Israeli junction. The Syrians may not have had any of them available in the north where the incursion took place. Syria is expected to get a total of 50 Pantsyrs of which a number may or may not go to Iran.

While claims of Israeli ground forces are unlikely, they are plausible if they were operating out of occupied Iraq.

Posted by: Lysander | Sep 11 2007 19:49 utc | 7

The political decision to engage in further wars of piracy upon Middle Eastern nations has long since been settled, in Washington and in Tel Aviv. Growing nations simply require war the same way they require debt financing. Can't grow without it.

America has the right, under God, to obtain and consume at six times the rate of the other 95% of the planet, after all. We are special, after all. Anyone who denies that is in trouble, and anyone who gets in the way is really in trouble.

And Israel has the right to expand into Greater Israel. It is so written.

So the rest is details. Details like how to get what is not ours by force. The kind of calculations the captains of pirate ships make just before they launch their broadside are bing made in both WAshington and Tel Aviv.

It will be a preemptive war of self-defense, just like all the others.

Posted by: Antifa | Sep 11 2007 19:52 utc | 8

Tony Sayegh at Palestian Pundit has an interesting take;

"Obviously USrael has sent a message to Syria. A part of the message is that USraeli jets have the capability to jam the Russian air defense system recently sold to Syria. How else were the jets able to enter from the Mediterranean and reach all the way to eastern Syria? Why was this new, sophisticated, system unable to shoot down any of the jets?

Another message to Syria is to abandon Iran and to join the rest of the Arab puppet regimes in their surrender conference in New York this fall. This was the explicit message from the Arab League to Syria.

In the war of messages, was the rocket attack by Islamic Jihad on an Israeli army base north of Gaza, which left some 60 Israeli soldiers wounded, also a message? Considering that Islamic Jihad has strong ties to Syria and keeping in mind that this was by far the highest toll inflicted by the Palestinian resistance in a single rocket attack, was this a reply message from Syria? Coming only a few days after the Israeli attack on Syria, the timing might not be coincidental.

Syria in the past chose others (such as Hizbullah) in delivering reply messages to Israel rather than reply directly. Is part of the reply message that the Palestinians now have more effective rockets with more accuracy, payload and longer range? After all the base hit is near Ashkelon (contrary to the IOF report) which is not that close to the Gaza border.

I have the feeling that the two events are interconnected. Stay tuned, because we are in the early stages of provocation which will likely culminate in an all-out war in the months ahead."

Posted by: Lysander | Sep 11 2007 20:01 utc | 9

AFAIK the flight path is the most direct route from Israel to Iran without crossing Iraqi airspace. North East through Syria and cutting across the South Eastern corner of Turkey.
Given that even if the Syrians hadn't picked up the intrusion Turkey certainly should have this may simply be a provocation on the part of Israel. An attempt to unsettle Iran.

However the fact that Turkey didn't say anything until the fuel tanks were seen makes one wonder how much of their air defenses Turkey gets to use for itself. The radar installations are NATO Cold War era bases and as such it is likely that NATO or maybe even amerika alone, holds a set of keys.

Obviously if Israel attacks Iran after flying through Iraqi airspace amerika will be correctly seen to have colluded in the attack, if on the other hand the flight path is through Syria and Turkey, the western media will claim this proves amerika wasn't involved, then lampoon 'those islamic' nations for not being up to it. They won't bother to mention NATO interference and/or trade restrictions on Syria which make it difficult for Syria to get the equipment required to effectively police it's ownn airspace.

And we all know that the mis-translations of Ahmadinejad's speeches will be more than enough 'proof' for the fuckwits and facists in Israel to justify slaughtering hundreds more 'dirty Muslims'.

If this was a trial run to probe Syria's defenses, it was unsuccessful. it seems to me that Syria picked up the Israelis relatively easily and sure when they go for real, Israel will most likely send a separate mission to destroy Syria's radar bases. However now Syria and Iran know what the game is, any attack on Syrian AA emplacements will leave plenty of time for Iran to get it's air defences scrambled and ready to welcome the 'guests'.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Sep 11 2007 23:02 utc | 10

Thinking a bit further about this it wouldn't even be particularly surprising if the Israeli 'payload' was nuclear. In that circumstance there is no doubt that amerika would want to cosmetically distance itself.
Olmert is dumb and psychopathic enough to nuke Iran to improve his polling.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Sep 12 2007 1:36 utc | 11

latest breaking on the Syria attack

Posted by: citizen | Sep 12 2007 2:22 utc | 12

The Israeli/US claim that the attack was on Iranian weapons in Syria may be true, but if it is it doesn't really come to grips with how the fuel tanks from the planes ended up in Turkey.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Sep 12 2007 2:41 utc | 13

Where were the tanks found in Turkey? If they were found around Antakya, the Israelis may not have penetrated all that far into Syria before they were detected and sent packing..

Posted by: pb | Sep 12 2007 4:08 utc | 14

Really appreciate news on this attack - one of those not reported stories here tho maybe with CNN picking it up, we'll hear more - but probably not.

OT but just got this via email:

Daily Kos story

Two of the Seven NYT Op-Ed Soldiers Have Died in Iraq
by Brandon Friedman
Tue Sep 11, 2007 at 09:09:26 PM PDT

Two of the seven soldiers who wrote the New York Times op-ed piece criticizing U.S. counterinsurgency strategy 3 1/2 weeks ago have been killed in Iraq. Yance T. Gray and Omar Mora died Monday in a vehicle accident in Baghdad. The AP has reported on Yance Gray here, and KHOU, a Houston-area TV station has reported on Omar Mora here. Their families have been notified.

I have confirmed through a source in Iraq that these are indeed the same soldiers who penned the op-ed piece.

I don't know what else to say.

Posted by: Siun | Sep 12 2007 6:11 utc | 15

The Pansyr air defense from Russia is oüprobably not in Syria:

Russia Denies Shipping Pantsyr-S1E Missile Launchers to Syria

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, 2007-08-17

Excerpt from report by Russian news agency Interfax-AVN website

Moscow, 17 August: Russia has not started supplying its new Pantsyr-S1E self-propelled short-range gun and missile air defence system. "We are not yet supplying the system either to Syria or to any other countries," a high-ranking source in the defence industry told Interfax-AVN today, commenting on media reports about Russia delivering new Pantsyrs to Syria. The reports also alleged that 10 of the 36 systems shipped to Damascus were to end up in Iran.

"This is a complete balderdash. First of all, because all Russian arms export contracts, especially those to the so-called problem states, have a clause banning their re-export to third countries. Secondly, Iran can buy these systems directly from Russia without resorting to Syrian assistance because there are no limitations on their supplies to that country," he said.

"The export of Pantsyr would not start until the official tests are completed, and they are currently being delayed. So, the first Pantsyrs will be exported to customers no earlier than the end of this year. And they would not be going to Syria, but to the United Arab Emirates, which put its money for the development of the system," the source explained. [Passage omitted: background information]

Originally published by Interfax-AVN military news agency website, Moscow, in Russian 0921 17 Aug 07.

Posted by: b | Sep 12 2007 6:19 utc | 16

NYT: U.S. Confirms Israeli Strikes Hit Syrian Target Last Week

After days of silence from the Israeli government, American officials confirmed Tuesday that Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes inside Syria last week, the first such attack since 2003.

A Defense Department official said Israeli jets had struck at least one target in northeastern Syria last Thursday, but the official said it was still unclear exactly what the jets hit and the extent of the bombing damage.
One Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea. The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria.

“The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” the official said. He said it was unclear whether the Israeli strike had produced any evidence that might validate that belief.

Note that this is not Bolton tlaking but someone still in the administration. They are building a meme "nukes in Syria" of something that is certainly not true.

Posted by: b | Sep 12 2007 7:03 utc | 17


Rozen cites Ammanpour and Ynet as saying Israelis targetting Hizbullah weapons routed through Syria from Iran. How exactly, and through which country, do the weapons get from Iran to Syria. Iraq or Turkey?

Posted by: johnf | Sep 12 2007 8:32 utc | 18

Supposing that the Israelis did intend to hit Iranian weapons passing through Syria, and even supposing that the attack did get through (quite likely, from the reports that an airfield near Deir ez-Zor was bombed), the operation would have to be repeated every week on the next batch of Iranian weapons. I got the impression this was a one-off operation.

By the way, there's an old adage from the 2nd world war, that the fact that you bombed a target doesn't mean that the target was destroyed. You have only exported x tons of bombs.

The smiles on the faces of the Israeli officials are certainly spin, intended to suggest that the operation was a success. But we really have no idea.

Posted by: Alex | Sep 12 2007 9:09 utc | 19

maybe the isrealis were bombing something / somebody / someone heading TO / INTO Iraq ( as a favor to the Oil Stealing Occupiers ( per the map in the link above ).

Posted by: who knew | Sep 12 2007 11:05 utc | 20

Ammanpour is, and always has been, a small tool of empire. What she says has never been reliable.

Posted by: Malooga | Sep 12 2007 11:23 utc | 21

A good comment in the (rightwing) Jerusalem Post by one Larry Derfner: Rattling the Cage: What Israeli aggression?

The reason Israelis believe the Syrian story is because if it wasn't true, Israel would deny it. Why would Israel deny it? Because countries aren't supposed to fly their jets into another country's airspace without permission. It's considered an invasion. An act of aggression. It gives the invaded country a casus belli - a justification to strike back.

In short, it's wrong. It's the sort of thing that starts wars, and countries are supposed to try to avoid wars, not start them.

So Israeli leaders have nothing to say about the Syrian reports. This is the diplomatic equivalent of a wink. Everyone understands.

What's hard to understand, though, is how the Israeli media can be so docile, so obedient, in the face of such a reckless Israeli act. I was watching Channel 2 Thursday night, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing, or rather not hearing.

None of the journalists, who clearly assumed that this incident had really taken place, thought it worth mentioning that Israel had just risked starting a war with Syria. None of them challenged Israeli officials on the wisdom of this. All they talked about was what Syria might do now, whether Syria would go to war. That Israel had just provoked Syria, had just escalated the conflict, was the elephant in the newsroom that they pretended not to see.

This has been the tenor of the coverage ever since - lots of speculation on what Israel was trying to achieve and how Syria might react, hardly a hint about the incredible risk Israel took, about the morality of tossing a lighted match in a dry forest as this country's leaders just did.

It's almost surrealistic. It's like there's a conspiracy of silence. The people who are supposed to ask questions act as if they've been lobotomized. I feel a little bit like I'm living in a police state.

What would have happened if Syria had shot down one of our jets? We would have been at war with a country on our northern border that has biological and chemical weapons as well as lots of missiles - and Israel would be guilty of having provoked the war.

Posted by: b | Sep 12 2007 11:56 utc | 22

Syria complains to UN over Israel

Syria has formally complained to the United Nations about an alleged raid by Israeli aircraft over its territory.

Posted by: Alex | Sep 12 2007 12:42 utc | 23

Yes, good comment, b.

Of course, you don't need a lobotomy to qualify for a position in the Western press. What you do need is a big house with a large mortgage, two or three kids, and friends in the business world who are lot's richer than you. That works just as well to keep people in line in a capitalist society, with none of the excess baggage.

Posted by: Malooga | Sep 12 2007 12:54 utc | 24

Perhaps part of the agenda was to lay the groundwork for a propaganda campaign to assert that North Korea has been supplying Syria with nuclear weapons, in articles such as this, this, and this, and others, including one in the NYT (cited in these) that I can't access at present. An assertion that is fairly preposterous, to say the least. But it could be laying the groundwork... or attempting to... if you get my drift. Hence the smug silence... innuendo.

Just a thought.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 12 2007 15:20 utc | 25

That shameless Israeli mouthpiece, the NY Sun, runs a piece with this paragraph in it:

A 10-day-old Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by a former American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, was widely recycled in the Israeli press over the weekend. "We know that both Iran and Syria have long cooperated with North Korea on ballistic missile programs, and the prospect of cooperation on nuclear matters is not far-fetched," Mr. Bolton wrote. I am told Mr. Bolton has long tried to focus attention on North Korea's ties to Syria, Iran, and Cuba, and that he has met with a lot of resistance in Washington.

Did the Israeli incursion expose any new North Korean information?

It is one hypothesis they mention among others, but it reminded me that Bolton's op-ed could not have been more perfectly timed, if this is the lead-in to a "whip up a war hysteria" propaganda-type campaign.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 12 2007 15:39 utc | 26

Interesting report that indicates that Israel is also trying to provoke Hizbullah into taking action: France was 2 seconds away from downing an Israeli jet in Lebanese airspace.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 13 2007 1:33 utc | 27

Big oops... That article I just linked to in #27 appeared to be dated September 13, but in fact it was actually posted back in January -- a fact not mentioned (I don't think?) until the very end of the piece in tiny print. That is terribly deceptive. Sorry!

Posted by: Bea | Sep 13 2007 1:36 utc | 28

The majority of Syria's defenses are around Damascus, on the other side of Syria from where the Israeli jets flew. 70% of the population of Syria lives in Damascus and surrounding areas and Damascus is a 1 hour drive from the Israeli border, so it is pretty self-evident why Syria would concentrate its defenses there. The eastern part of Syria is virtually undefended because Syria has no enemies there -- Lebanon is basically a Syrian vassal state, Turkey and Syria have uneasy but peaceful relations, and of course Iraq is in no position to invade Syria given that Iraq is currently embroiled in a messy civil war, and besides other than the coast the eastern part of Syria is worthless uninhabited desert. The fact that Israeli jets would be detected and fired upon at all when flying over the east of Syria is, frankly, amazing, considering the near utter lack of defenses in the east, and makes me wonder whether Syrian policemen in the coastal area (the only inhabited part of the east) noticed the Israeli jets, called Damascus, and Damascus quickly rushed some AA artillery batteries out of storage out there.

- Badtux the War Penguin

Posted by: Badtux | Sep 13 2007 19:29 utc | 29

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