Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 04, 2008

Hersh on the "Box on the Euphrates"

The new Symour Hersh story, A Strike in the Dark, is about Israel's bombing of the Syrian Box-on-the-Euphrates.

Before diving into Hersh's account let me recap what was written here about the issue.

Early dispatches of the September 6 bombing were linked by Debs and Bea. On September 11 I mulled about Another Middle East Mystery. The reporting on it smelled of a neocon/Israeli campaign -  The Building of a Nuclear Syria Meme. We compared Propaganda: 2002-Iraq 2007-Syria and in a comment noted the "stovepiping" of intelligence on the issue. On September 29 we documented that Hillary Clinton actively peddled the neocon/Israeli "nuclear Syria" story despite better knowledge.

On October 4 my assertion was that Israel Failed to Provoke War. On October 14 the NYT revived the factless 'nuclear Syria' propaganda. This was noted in Baseless "News" on Page 1. In late October David Albright of ISIS peddled satellite pictures of the Syrian site as 'evidence' of something 'nuclear'. I asserted that this was false. In War from the Mediterranean to Kashmir I said:

All the rumors about a 'nuclear target' [in Syria] there appear to be 'curveball' like fabrications ...

Now it is nice to learn that nearly all of my thoughts on the issue are confirmed by Hersh's research and sources:

  • There was no 'nuclear target'.
  • Syria has no 'nuclear program'.
  • Most of the 'official' accounts about the issue were pure propaganda.
  • The press was lied to and lied itself.
  • David Albright's photo analysis was influenced by Israelis and dead wrong.

Hersh does not dive into the neocon connections to the campaign I believe to have proven.

He does not find any real reason why the bombing took place, but he seems not to test the hypothesis that it might have been an attempt to start a bigger war. This something I still find likely.

In total the long Hersh piece well worth your time. It is also a good documentation of managed propaganda.

Some excerpts with added emphasis:

The seemingly unprovoked bombing, which came after months of heightened tension between Israel and Syria over military exercises and troop buildups by both sides along the Golan Heights, was, by almost any definition, an act of war.

Within hours of the attack, Syria denounced Israel for invading its airspace, but its public statements were incomplete and contradictory—thus adding to the mystery.
It was evident that officials in Israel and the United States, although unwilling to be quoted, were eager for the news media to write about the bombing. Early on, a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces with close contacts in Israeli intelligence approached me, with a version of the standard story, including colorful but, as it turned out, unconfirmable details: Israeli intelligence tracking the ship from the moment it left a North Korean port; Syrian soldiers wearing protective gear as they off-loaded the cargo; Israeli intelligence monitoring trucks from the docks to the target site.
Joseph Cirincione, the director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank, told me, “Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing. There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political.” Cirincione castigated the press corps for its handling of the story. “I think some of our best journalists were used,” he said.

A similar message emerged at briefings given to select members of Congress within weeks of the attack. The briefings, conducted by intelligence agencies, focussed on what Washington knew about the September 6th raid. .. The legislator’s conclusion, the staff member said, was “There’s nothing that proves any perfidy involving the North Koreans.”
[Albright] concluded his [photo] analysis by posing a series of rhetorical questions that assumed that the target was a nuclear facility
The [Washington] Post ran a story, without printing the imagery, on October 19th, reporting that “U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the aftermath of the attack” had concluded that the site had the “signature,” or characteristics, of a reactor “similar in structure to North Korea’s facilities”—a conclusion with which Albright then agreed. In other words, the Albright and the Post reports, which appeared to independently reinforce each other, stemmed in part from the same sources.

Albright told me that before going public he had met privately with Israeli officials.
Proliferation experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency and others in the arms-control community disputed Albright’s interpretation of the images. “People here were baffled by this, and thought that Albright had stuck his neck out,” a diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. is headquartered, told me. “The I.A.E.A. has been consistently telling journalists that it is skeptical about the Syrian nuclear story, but the reporters are so convinced.”
The journey of the Al Hamed, a small coastal trader, became a centerpiece in accounts of the September 6th bombing. On September 15th, the Washington Post reported that “a prominent U.S. expert on the Middle East” said that the attack “appears to have been linked to the arrival . . . of a ship carrying material from North Korea labeled as cement.” The article went on to cite the expert’s belief that “the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment.” Other press reports identified the Al Hamed as a “suspicious North Korean” ship.
At the time of the bombing, according to Lloyd’s, it was flying a Comoran flag and was owned by four Syrian nationals. In earlier years, under other owners, the ship seems to have operated under Russian, Estonian, Turkish, and Honduran flags. Lloyd’s records show that the ship had apparently not passed through the Suez Canal—the main route from the Mediterranean to the Far East—since at least 1998.
Faruq al-Shara, the Syrian Vice-President, told me. “Israel bombed to restore its credibility, and their objective is for us to keep talking about it. And by answering your questions I serve their objective. Why should I volunteer to do that?”
A senior Syrian official confirmed that a group of North Koreans had been at work at the site, but he denied that the structure was related to chemical warfare. ... The facility that was attacked, the official said, was to be one of a string of missile-manufacturing plants scattered throughout Syria—“all low tech. Not strategic.” ...
Whatever was under construction, with North Korean help, it apparently had little to do with agriculture—or with nuclear reactors—but much to do with Syria’s defense posture, and its military relationship with North Korea. And that, perhaps, was enough to silence the Syrian government after the September 6th bombing.
The former U.S. senior intelligence official told me that, as he understood it, America’s involvement in the Israeli raid dated back months earlier, and was linked to the Administration’s planning for a possible air war against Iran.
There is evidence that the preëmptive raid on Syria was also meant as a warning about—and a model for—a preëmptive attack on Iran. When I visited Israel this winter, Iran was the overriding concern among political and defense officials I spoke to—not Syria.
Retired Major General Giora Eiland, who served as the national-security adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told me, “The Israeli military takes it as an assumption that one day we will need to have a military campaign against Iran, to slow and eliminate the nuclear option.” He added, “Whether the political situation will allow this is another question.

Posted by b on February 4, 2008 at 13:30 UTC | Permalink


Good to see Hersh confirms what we all thought.

There is evidence that the preëmptive raid on Syria was also meant as a warning about—and a model for—a preëmptive attack on Iran.

If that was the case, the raid was a failure. If they hit a target of little importance, they have shown that they would end up doing the same in Iran. An assault on Iran which went off at half-cock must be the nightmare of Israel, the worst of all possible outcomes, and that is precisely what happened in Syria, it seems.

In Tel Aviv, the senior Israeli official pointedly told me, “Syria still thinks Hezbollah won the war in Lebanon”—referring to the summer, 2006, fight between Israel and the Shiite organization headed by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. “Nasrallah knows how much that war cost—one-third of his fighters were killed, infrastructure was bombed, and ninety-five per cent of his strategic weapons were wiped out,” the Israeli official said. “But Assad has a Nasrallah complex and thinks Hezbollah won. And, ‘If he did it, I can do it.’ This led to an adventurous mood in Damascus. Today, they are more sober.”

I thought this paragraph was funny, and made me laugh. The Winograd commission final report, although a whitewash, showed very clearly that the 33-day war was definitely not a success for Israel, and could be counted a failure. Hardly a successful warning to Syria.

Posted by: Alex | Feb 4 2008 15:49 utc | 1

The US wants to grab the oil fields. It must keep Israel unstable, paranoid, always uncertain, and, most important, focussed on the bigger picture - not patches of municipal territory in Jerusalem or the Gaza mess, or health care - not its parochial concerns, rather the grand sweep.

From time to time, Israel obliges. Its symbiotic relationship with the US, the Isr. Gvmt’s. desperate, terminal weakness and dependence on US aid, and generally, on relations with the ‘west’ (exports, German reparations, immigration, control of water, UN lenience, manipulation of public opinion, image, support, etc. etc.) forces it to act.

While the US may have been admiring of past military victories (I think that might have been a factor in the symbiosis) recently performance has been incredibly poor (e.g. Lebanon 06) because the Isr. army is not what it used to be. Israel is becoming impoverished, and the army must be suffering, possibly not in arms (I can’t judge that), but in no. of enlisted, and specially the number of reserve soldiers who can be called up, support from the ppl, the blind acceptance of a military culture as inherent to the social fabric.

I have read (?) that Isr. now hires private security guards for some checkpoints - shades of the US - it costs a bomb (sic) but they just don’t have enough boots, so they shell out.

On a larger social scale, the middle class is shrinking, going (emigration) and gone, as they have abandoned the project. Some few have joined the upper class, a very rare exploit, others have sunk down to the poverty level...Isr. is now a place populated by the poor waiting for shell outs, various groups screaming or depressed about / for their whatever.

Settlers, top of the heap; orthodox jews who study the bible, get a small stipend, send their wives to work for minimum wage - the productivity of Isr. is very low - Poor Isr. citizens who have lost about 20% of social aid. and ... Recent immigrants who threaten not to stay (most leave after a sort of holiday), internationals who can’t stand the place for more than 6 months, and the Arab Israelis, suffering, quiet, repressed.

Anyone who can get out goes.

Russian immigration has vanished and those who were there and could contribute left. Isr. made conditions open for money laundering (and more) to attract these people, but others allow it too, and finally, Russia is now a good place for them. Russians are educated, they can still read the papers, financial reports, official documents. In many scripts.

And that is without mentioning Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, etc.

So a few bombs lobbed at Syria for any reason at all are a show of compliance, a minimal move to exhibit willingness, keep up the myth and hopefully the dollars coming in.

/end rant/

Posted by: Tangerine | Feb 4 2008 18:08 utc | 2

@Tangerine - interesting rant - I don't have numbers of Israeli im/ex-igration and I'm not sure you are right there. I agree with the rest of it.

An interesting recent tale was some Russian youth imported to Israel painting swastikas etc.

Looks like Israel has a neo-nazi problem ... who will they pressure for that?

Posted by: b | Feb 4 2008 20:06 utc | 3

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