Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 04, 2007

Israel Failed to Provoke War

Hannah K. O'Luthon pointed to this Haaretz' analysis by Amir Oren about the Israeli air attack on Syria three weeks ago.

The farce came to a partial end yesterday, and even though there is still a gag order on most of the juicy details, we can safely say that behind the successful blackout campaign lies an enormous failure. The silence of official Israel was not meant to protect military secrets.
Policy was shaped on the basis of a certain assumption about Bashar Assad's behavior in response to the operation. ... [I]t seems that once again Assad surprised Israel; whoever expected him to respond to the operation in a military operation was wrong.

In my September 11 piece I also claimed that the operation was a failure. One of the Israeli jets dropped its extra fuel tanks over Turkey. This only made sense as an emergency measure while under threat from Syrian air defense. The Israeli planes likely never saw their real target.

But the second assertion in Oren's analysis is much more frightening. If he is right, which I think he is, the Israeli air attack was done to provoke a military answer by Syria. The attack was an attempt to justify the start of a wider war.

Back in September I didn't see the real picture but had questions:

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?

These question are now answered. An immediate attack was planed based on some provokated Syrian action. But Syria didn't fall into the trap. The chief of the UN observation force on the Golan, in an interview (in German) with Der Spiegel, recently unveiled that throughout the summer Israel has intensly trained and prepared for large attack operations. This despite quietness on the Syrian side of the Golan boarder.

But to what purpose might Israel have tried to provoke Syria into a wider war? Why did it train large ground attack operations?

I can think of three possible intentions:

1. Avoid to give back the Golan heights
There was pressure from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to include Syria in the next round of peace talks with the Palestinians and other Middle East countries. Any peace with Syria would end Israeli control of the Golan. A new war with Syria, even a small one, could avoid this for further years.

2. Prepare for war with Iran
An attack on Syria now avoids later interference from it in case of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran. Next to an intense air campaign to destroy Syrian missile capacities, a ground component could have included a temporary rush from the Golan some 30 miles northeast to threaten Damascus and block the Beirut-Damascus highway.

3. Shut down Hisbullah
A wider operation could include operation 2 and, while blocking Damascus, make a wide 180 degree turn towards the Mediterranian with the aim to cut off Hisbullah's area in South Lebanon from the rest of that country. This would open the possibility to 'roll up' Hizbullah's South Lebanese positions along the Litani river from their back side. A big, risky operation, but the distances are relative small, it avoids crossing the mountains and Heinz Guderian would have liked it.

Whatever the plan was, Oren explains that it failed because the expected military response by Syria, which would have justified wider action, did not come. Syria avoided a military answer and the obvious consequences.

Like the Bush administration, the Israeli planers assume their enemies think like themselves. They project. Israel would certainly respond militarily to any air attack. It expected Syria to do the same, but Assad isn't as stupid as they think.

We can be certain that Washington approved the Israeli air-attack and the wider plan. Thereby Washington must also have agreed with the false prediction.

The same dumb projection mechanism will be the base for the plans for war on Iran. They will fail for the same reason.

Posted by b on October 4, 2007 at 20:12 UTC | Permalink


Fascinating. I only hope you are right, but I fear that all indicators point to the danger of war still being quite high, particularly in these days. (On top of all the visible military preparations, there is the fact that October is a favorable month, weather-wise, to fight in the Middle East -- not too hot any more, but not much rain yet. Cool and dry... )

The article also includes ample substantiation that this is not a new tactic on Israel's part. For example:

In early 1981, the IDF shot down Syrian helicopters that supported fighting against the Phalange militia in Lebanon. In a surprise response, Syria slipped anti-aircraft missiles into the Bekaa Valley. In the end, Menachem Begin carried out the official annexation of the Golan. One of his aims was to lead to war with Syria and push the new Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to freeze relations with Israel and offer him an excuse not to evacuate Yamit in the Sinai.

The same could be said here. I would add as another possible motive an attempt to fundamentally change the balance of power (even further, if such a thing is conceivable) in advance of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace conference" scheduled for November 15 (and now, probably postponed until late November due to disagreements between the parties) -- to remove Syria from the equation and leave the Abbas government standing, literally, on one toe and having no choice but to sign on the dotted line to any terms that Israel dictates.... or perhaps even to cause the conference to be indefinitely postponed (Palestinians pull out in protest over attack on Syria, etc).

I also take note of and recall Bush's offhand comment about "playing for October-November" after which "another administration will want to stick around" in Iraq... no doubt he was referring to this grand scheme, for starters, and the Iran sequel that was most likely choreographed to follow.

Posted by: Bea | Oct 4 2007 20:31 utc | 1

Chess. Jews know it well, Zionist's think it is just a game.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Oct 4 2007 21:11 utc | 2

Syrian parliament member to Israeli Arab newspaper:

Israel Operation Failed."

Speaking of the Israel’s operation in Syria last month, Habash said, “All the signs show that Israel carried out a failed operation. Its planes took off with munitions, targets, and a plan, but were surprised by the Syria’s aerial defense forces, which forced them to drop the munitions over an unsettled area.

Posted by: Bea | Oct 4 2007 21:27 utc | 3

Syrian leadership clearly saw that they couldn't do military retaliations because they were not prepared and it would fail. They probably couldn't even have done it right if they tried.
Not only do the idiots in charge in DC and Jerusalem think the others think like themselves, they also assume that the others are as big, strong and badass, as if they ended up believing their own propaganda about this and that allegedly powerful military - usually the 4th or 5th in the world, even when everyone can see it's a subpar army.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Oct 4 2007 22:26 utc | 4

Looks like a serious lack of intellingence on Israel's part. I don't mean military either. Just plain common sense. This episode, after their utter failure in Lebanon, shows that perhaps they listen to Dick Cheney a little too much.

Posted by: mikefromtexas | Oct 4 2007 23:56 utc | 5

Well said HKOL. I had similar thoughts when Israel seemed most unwilling to discuss the operation but 'leaked' they had successfully bombed a secret nuclear facility given Syria by North korea.

Trouble with that notion was that Israel is not known for hiding its light under a bushel. If they had done any such thing we would never have heard the end of it. Dragging North Korea into the frame was considered a safe move since that country is notorious for staying shtum and anything which may discredit North Korea would be totally supported by amerika who were desperate to put a stop to this:

SEOUL, South Korea -

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il greeted South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in Pyongyang on Tuesday to begin the second summit between the two countries since the peninsula's division after World War II.

Earlier, Roh symbolically walked across the North's border, pledging to foster peace on the divided peninsula.

It is great news that Korea has managed to sidestep amerika's insistence that war be permanent. That may be a funny haircut but it protects a sharp brain inside Kim Jong Il's head.

The bit I couldn't follow was why? Why would Israel attack Syria if it wasn't to surgically remove some installation or be an attempt to sneak up on Iran?

The notion of Israel going to war with Syria is madness particularly if Israel is the agressor. but I guess they thought, if only they can make Syria seem to be at fault, idiot Olmert might get his poll numbers out of the toilet.

Even so it's dodgy stuff, particularly in light of the current world wide attitudes towards Israel.

Uri Avnery reckons that amerika is about to have an epiphany about Israel following the release of Mearsheimer and Walt's "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy":

THE BOOK by the two professors, who criticize the Israeli government from a different angle, cannot be buried anymore. This fact, by itself, speaks volumes.

The book is based on an essay by the two that appeared last year in a British journal, after no American publication dared to touch it. Now a respected American publishing house has released it--an indication that something is moving. The situation has not changed, but it seems that it is now possible at least to talk about it.

Everything depends on timing--and apparently the time is now ripe for such a book, which will shock many good people in America. It is now causing an uproar.

So have the Israelis become so complacent, so self-assured that their might will out, despite the feelings of the hundreds of millions of people who live around them, that they can no longer make realistic judgments about what strategy they need follow, much less control their environment in the manner they became so accustomed to?

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 5 2007 3:15 utc | 6

But to what purpose might Israel have tried to provoke Syria into a wider war? Why did it train large ground attack operations?

Your arrows actually point directly to the reason: Israel covets the Litani River and its water, as it has since before David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dyan proposed occupying Southern Lebanon to get it and most recently with Israel's disastrous Lebanese offensive in 2006.

For water-starved Israel, the Litani is the greatest strategic interest in Southern Lebanon. All other objectives pale in comparison.

Posted by: Night Owl | Oct 5 2007 4:27 utc | 7

"We can be certain that Washington approved the Israeli air-attack and the wider plan. Thereby Washington must also have agreed with the false prediction."

Since the "wider plan" is regime change in Iran maybe they are testing the Iran Syria defence pact?

RE the Avnery link @ 6 on the Israeli Lobby Report:

Each of these assertions is backed up by so much undeniable evidence and quotations from written material (mainly from Israeli sources) that they cannot be ignored.

When you have to use a foreign country to back your research that pretty much says it all doesn't it?

They do not accept my contention, quoted in the book, that Israel acted in Lebanon as "America's Rottweiler" (to Hizbullah as "Iran's Doberman").

At least I'm not alone in my thinking.

More American taxpayer largesse at work:

"Apparently, Fatah is trying to copy the tactics of the anti-American insurgents in Iraq," said a Palestinian journalist in Gaza City. "It's ironic that Hamas is now describing the Fatah attacks as acts of terrorism."

Fatah has launched insurgency against us in Gaza

Will we hear any complaining in the uS Media?

Posted by: Sam | Oct 5 2007 6:48 utc | 8

As Ibn Khaldun, that astute, wily old Spaniard put it:

"Victory in war as a rule is the result of imaginary psychological factors. Numbers, weapons, and proper tactics may guarantee victory. However ... (all these things) are less effective than the factors mentioned above. Trickery is one of the most useful things employed in warfare. It is the thing most likely to bring victory."

Posted by: johnf | Oct 5 2007 10:57 utc | 9

Something whispers that Syria was tipped off. Maybe those Israeli fuel tanks jettisoned in the desert for a quick exit.

Assad is bright and realist enough to recognize that restraint would serve Syria better than reactive belligerence. It still helps to have time to reflect. Syria, also, remained largely silent on details.

If there was a tip, the most likely source would have been inside the US intel/ military, if not Israeli.

All the tea leaves indicate that the number of defectors, from a bellicose US ME strategy, is growing among strategy-policy insiders. A tip off to Syria would mean that there is enough consensus within, for some to conclude that action, beyond the role of merely advising, may sometimes be necessary. A tip that thwarts a provocation also sends a message to those intent on stirring up excuses to extend war. Is it more effective if the war party knows or only suspects a leak?

This speculation does not account for Turkey. Does the original report of jets overflying Turkey still hold? Wouldn't Turkey have to be notified in advance?

Posted by: small coke | Oct 5 2007 17:37 utc | 10

If you all love Syria so much why don't you all go and live there?

Maybe you could start some poltical protests in Syria? I'm sure they love that kind of thing over there.

You could then try to access the internet, and write blog comments on political subjects, and see how far you get.

Posted by: Jeff | Oct 5 2007 19:52 utc | 11

Jeff, what's your point? Your are a kindergarden poster.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Oct 5 2007 20:12 utc | 12

Pat Lang at Miller Center:
Israel lost confidence after Hizbollah conflict 2006. Based on his reading of available reports, he concludes that the raid on Syria was designed to reestablish that Israel could move freely throughout the area, thus reestablish Israel's deterrence posture. Successful for that.

Posted by: small coke | Oct 5 2007 20:51 utc | 13


If you all love Syria so much why don't you all go and live there?

Who wrote anything about loving Syria? Where do you read anywhere on this site any support for dictators? Is this what you use for justification to slag the people on this site, inventions in your own mind? These people were protesting the arming of bin Laden and company when they were known as Ronnie's "freedom fighters". These people were protesting the arming of Saddam when he was killing his own people and invading his neighbors with the full approval and help of the US government. Is trying to stop more wars considered evil in your mind?

Maybe you could start some poltical protests in Syria? I'm sure they love that kind of thing over there.

Yah we could protest the torture of a Canadian citizen arrestted and sent to Syria by the US government.

You could then try to access the internet, and write blog comments on political subjects, and see how far you get.

Of course we could say the same about Bush's pals in Saudi Arabia that he likes to hold hands with. How charming that Saudi royalty are best friends with Bush despite bin Laden being a Saudi and 15 of the evil 19 that attacked America were Saudi and most of the foreign fighters killing US troops in Iraq are Saudis and the 911 Commission Report blacks out the Saudi funding connection.

Posted by: Sam | Oct 5 2007 21:58 utc | 14

@small coke "he concludes that the raid on Syria was designed to reestablish that Israel could move freely throughout the area, thus reestablish Israel's deterrence posture. Successful for that.

Was it successful though? The Syrians claim to have driven them off and given that Israel has been extremely quiet about this mission, when it normally blows it's own horn ad nauseum, after a mission, I seriously doubt the mission was either successful, or, that Israel demonstrated it's ability to move freely outside it's limited borders.

As far as living in Syria goes, there are plenty of worse places than small town Syria to hang out in. The people are generally friendly and welcoming; housing, food, education, and health services are freely available.

The 1973 Syrian Constitution binds the State to providing extensive welfare services free of
charge or at token charges to citizens and government has constantly placed
emphasis on people’s well-being and the development of its human capital.

Anna Galdo, Welfare In Mediterranean Countries, The Syrian Arab Republic

That report, a project of the Centre for Administrative Innovation In the Euro-Mediterranean Region C.A.I.MED which can be found in PDF format here makes for interesting reading.

Remember Syria is no rich oil state. It relies on the output of it's people to survive as a nation and consequently since starting off a low base following decolonisation from France has begun to make advances across the board in ensuring that the Syrian people are well supported during it's long transition to an egalitarian society. eg

average life expectancy (in years) 1993 was 67.1 years by 2002 that had risen to 71.5

The big one for me is infant mortality (number of deaths of children born live before they reach 1 year old) because unless every child born has a chance at life all other statistics are meaningless.

In Syria in 1993 34.6 children per 1000 live births were not surviving, yet by 2002 a mere decade later this had dropped nearly by half to 18 per 1000 live births.

The same source WHO Regional Office for Middle East, provided data on child mortality that is the deaths of children after 1 y.o.

1993 41.7 per 1000 live births and 2002 was 20 deaths per 1000 live births.

These figures are still higher than many western societies but they are reducing, unlike amerika's 2002 figures where infant mortality while much lower than Syria's had begun to rise again.

The article linked to above has a few weasel words from the CDC to try and explain theis so-called anomaly, but unfortunately this statistical glitch seems to be repeating itself in other 'western societies' as the neo-lib social and economic agenda begins to bite.

If I were to make an off the cuff comment about the amerikan returns in the same manner the CDC did, that is without any meaningful research to support it, I would guess that the rise in infant mortality may be attributable to the increasing exclusion of so called illegal migrants from medical services.

But back to Syria. The report points out:

Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) - purchasing power parity – was estimated at $3,300 last year but other report lower rates - between $600 and $1,300, depending on the source -. However free provision of health services and education, and state subsidies should also be considered when discussing population income averages. In any case, nearly 70% of Syrian workers earn less than $100 per month and 20% of the population is below the poverty line . Price controls ensure a quite low and stable inflation rate (1.5% in 2003) but at the same time slow down the economy. In the area of poverty reduction, successive five years plans have aimed at improving the population’s income and prosperity; this occurred, despite high population growth (2.5%) . Monthly salaries increased in the public and private sector. Increases have concentrated in the past few decades on low income groups with the aim of achieving equality in income distribution and reducing disparity between minimum and maximum wages.

So as far as living in Syria goes there are plenty of much worse places as I said above.

Most people on this planet would probably have an easier time of it if they were born in a small village outside of Al Ladhiqiyah (Lattakia, home of some of the world's best pipe tobacco), than they would if they were born in say, Jena, Louisiana.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 5 2007 22:46 utc | 15


we have to suffer now & then here people who post with the most craven of ideas. the most impoverished of ideas. indeed of the absence of ideas.

but your crudity, your vulgarity is a testimony of how stupid people have become throughout the neoliberal epoch

really, from reagan & thatcher to this moment - your kind of idiocy is constantly rewarded- indeed elaborated - cretin upon cretin - o'reilly, cnn, fox, sky - endlessly moron upon moron babbling & barking night & day

it's been a long day since i have heard someone say - go back to russia if its so good(repmace with what country serves the idiot's prejudices

of course, jeff will be clapping that today the murderers of haditha will never have to face trial, that the assasins of innocent in iraq will never face justice, he will of course clap the black bloated dead bodies of americans floating on the waters of new orleans

jeff, your kind is nothing, it is less than nothing, history has already hidden you up its ass

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Oct 5 2007 22:49 utc | 16

than you debs

it seems, iy must seem that all our life of struggle has been against cretins like jeff & the cretinous ideology that protects & exalts their stupidity

it just gets very tiresome sometimes

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Oct 5 2007 22:53 utc | 17

Did @15
I am inclined to your way of thinking, esp considering the lack of Israeli hornblowing. But then, I guess it could depend on whether the target audience for the raid is the general public, or a narrower, subtler group within the region.

Should have introduced the post about Lang's opinion with FWIW. Coming from an old ME hand and spook, I don't dismiss his guesses out of hand. He does, at least, dismiss most of the hyped stories of nuclear weapons, Korean duplicity, or any other target of particular significance.

Laura Rozen posts a very different account from "Intelligence Online." (Anyone know anything about this source? I'd suspect a mix of real info with disinfo.) It identifies the target as a Syrian storage warehouse for long and mid-range missles. Timing coordinated with arrival of a shipment of Scud missle parts from Korea. In other words, nothing novel about the target or the commerce.

Posted by: small coke | Oct 5 2007 23:11 utc | 18

Stephen Green asks if Russian-made SS-21's may be part of the puzzle in the Syrian desert. Green says Syria's acquisition of this missile in 1982 introduced "a new regime, a new status quo between Israel and Syria," and that the offensive capability of SS-21's should cause Israel to worry about attacks against Syria.

Unlike the Scuds and the multiple-launch rocket systems which the Soviets sold to many of their client states across the globe in the period, the SS-21 is a tactical ballistic missile that is accurately targetable to within about 50-100 yards, and carries a payload of around one ton. It is not a Scud. At impact, it is traveling at over 2000 MPH. Launch to target times from southern Syria to northern Israel would be 3-5 minutes: Israeli pilots would not even have a chance to get their helmets on. And anti-missile systems, like the Patriot, would be about as effective as they have been to date.

Posted by: small coke | Oct 6 2007 0:09 utc | 19

Uhm, while I don't doubt that Syria keeps some long range missiles out there in the west so that they can continue pounding Israel after Israel takes Damascus (where 3/4ths of Syria's population lives and where most of Syria's defenses are concentrated), they certainly aren't going to put them all in one warehouse. This notion of "they're brown so they must be stupid" is just yet more Israeli arrogance and yet another reason why Israel's neighbors consider Israel to be just another European crusader state (most Arab intellectuals are careful to distinguish between Israelis of Middle Eastern origin and those from Europe, though people on the street aren't so discerning). Look at Israel's leaders -- all white Europeans. Do not confuse hatred of Israel for hatred of Jews. Arabs in the region would hate Israel just as much if it were founded by European Lutherans rather than European Jews. It's the "European" part that sticks in their craw, they had enough of Europeans when the 1st Crusade slaughtered or enslaved the population of Jerusalem to the last man, woman and child -- even the 30% that was Jewish who had retreated to their synagogues for safety. And yes, they remember 800-year-old atrocities in the Muslim world... shit, they remember 1200-year-old atrocities in the Muslim world (the cause of the whole Sunni-Shiite split).

Of course, past Arab military successes (hah!) against the IDF gave the IDF reason to feel smug and superior for many, many years. But it turns out that you can't count on your opponents remaining stupid forever. The current leadership in Jordan and Syria were educated in England and are not stupid people. They're not interested in a war with Israel because, given current demographic and economic trends inside Israel, the Israeli state will collapse within the next fifty years. They have their own problems, especially given the current Iraq refugee crisis in these two countries, which threatens to overwhelm their water supply and civic infrastructure, and are fully contented to let Israel rot in its own decaying carapace. All these probes on the part of Israel are in the end attempts by a failed socialist state with a decaying economy and rusting military to put on a pretense of power, much the same as North Korea does from time to time.

Posted by: Badtux | Oct 6 2007 0:25 utc | 20

@small coke All the usual sorces are coming out with the same indirect nuanced statements and undoubtedly this will become the accepted truth when the issue is discussed publicaly in a year or two.

The fact is though that no one has come out directly and said that was what the target was or that is what was hit and since there can be no 'intelligence' reason for this ie Syria knows what Israel knows in terms of target selection, one must assume the attack was a failure.

If it had been succesful Olmert would have been shouting it from the rooftops. The folly of Ollie needs any success that can be found. However if it were unsuccessful this is exactly the way it would be handled - complete clampdown for reasons of national security accompanied by knowing winks and insinuations from trusted supporters, many of whom may well believe the job was a success, simply because that's what they want to believe.

Remember we live in the age of video warfare, if this 'raid' had hit anything meaningful you tube would be carrying vids of disintegrating missile warehouses, 'unofficial' of course.

That may still happen but not while it would get a front page article lest Syria be able to prove otherwise.

We will get months and months of knowing whispers from the zionists and their fellow travellers with an eventual blurry confirmatory vid when the time is judged right; either because of it being so long ago or if sooner, when everyone is too distracted by something else.

This one will be filed away for a time when amerika/israelInc determine they want to lambast Syria in the UN, then the old colinpowell liarama (patent pending) schtick will be dragged out onto the floor of the General Assembly. The hints and insinuations will have become 'facts'. Each with their very own bullet point. Just as factual as Niger uranium deals to Iraq or Kuwaiti babies being tipped out of their incubators.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 6 2007 0:35 utc | 21

Do we really know who the intended target was? How plausible is the scenario laid out here
by The Spook in the Machine?

The actual events of September 6, 2007 may have been an interrupted Israeli raid on the Iranian nuclear weapons facilities using tactical nuclear weapons. This raid may not have been authorized by the top levels of the Israeli political system (or in other words, it may have been a rogue operation.)

Posted by: moonshadow | Oct 6 2007 2:57 utc | 22

I certainly agree that it looks like the Israeli operation was a failure. I've been posting that thought for some time. However it is far from certain that nothing was bombed, and that the Israeli planes were caught on the outward flight. All the known facts can be satisfied by the supposition that an anti-aircraft missile was launched, and tanks and ammo were dumped in order to avoid it. Even if the clash took place on the return flight, it could easily be the case that an unimportant, and wrong, site was bombed. There's been a notable lack of journalist investigations of sites in Syria. One to my knowledge.

I wouldn't place the same interpretation as you on Oren's statement 'behind the successful blackout campaign lies an enormous failure'. The failure he means is the general one of misinterpreting Syrian reactions, not that this operation was a failure. But no matter.

It seems to me that the hypothesis that the raid was intended to provoke a military response and thus a war is no more likely than previous suggestions. Were Israeli troops in jump-off positions for a land attack, as supposed by the map? Some investigation of that is needed. I'm sure we would have heard of preparations. A land attack cannot be launched without considerable assembly of troops and resources.

I still remain with my thought that either the Israelis bombed a useless target, through poor intelligence (the most likely), or they were turned back on the outward flight. I love Syria and the Syrians, but I doubt the competence of their air defence, whatever their equipment. An energetic officer was present at the radar screens; lower ranks would not have dared launch, and non-energetic officers would have been drinking tea. The idea that they may have been tipped off is a possibility. There must be a lot of disgruntled US military these days.

Posted by: Alex | Oct 6 2007 20:45 utc | 23

I think people sometimes forget that Israel and Syria have been in a formally declared state of war since 1948. It was Syria who declared war, not Israel. You can read the declaration of war here:

Posted by: mike | Oct 8 2007 18:24 utc | 24

@Mike - what are you saying? North Korea would be justified to bomb Washington?

Posted by: b | Oct 8 2007 19:47 utc | 25

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