ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Deep in the (well-populated, well-connected, fertile) desert

Tourist trips to the Box-on-the-Euphrates

Is the Box-on-the-Euphrates in a remote place?

Details like that might seem insignificant, but they are not. Often, it seems to me, intelligence judgments are supported by informal bits of “color” or what you might call the gouge — circumstantial details that aren’t part of any official briefing, but appear in loose talk to bolster a judgment. Recall the “viewing stand” that North Korea never built, but nonetheless contributed to a false alarm about North Korean nuclear testing in Spring 2005.

One detail in the Box-on-the-Euphrates story that seems to lend credence to the “nuclear reactor” hypothesis is that the site is remote, and therefore suspicious. Here is how Martha Raddatz at ABC put it:

The official said the suspected nuclear facility was approximately 100 miles from the Iraqi border, deep in the desert along the Euphrates River. It was a place, the official said, “where no one would ever go unless you had a reason to go there.”

But the claim the the location is remote is, itself, an exaggeration. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — As I pointed out a week ago, the fact that the Box on the Euphrates is not in a remote location is evident simply from studying Google Earth images. It’s very easy to zero in on the site’s location because the Euphrates river valley comprises two broad ribbons of rich agricultural land in the middle of which an arid interlude — no more than a few miles long — divides the river valley. This is the spot that, from a narrow-angle view, looks like the middle of nowhere.
middle of nowhere
Syria is not the American mid-West — in other words, agriculture is not highly mechanized and thus requires plenty of labor. Close to the “isolated” location that the media has only depicted in close aerial shots, there are lots of towns and villages. A surfaced road and a railway track run either side of the “nuclear” site. By no definition of the expression, can this be called “the middle of nowhere” — unless, that is, it’s an expression being used by those parochial observers who regard Syria itself as the middle of nowhere.

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