Narrative on Israeli air strike on Syria starts to unravel

In the aftermath of an Israeli air strike on Syria on Wednesday, numerous reports claimed that the target of the strike was a convoy carrying SA-17 missiles approaching the Lebanese border. The Syrian government, however, claimed that the target was a research facility north west of Damascus.

Russian SA-17

The New York Times reported:

American officials said Israel hit a convoy before dawn on Wednesday that was ferrying sophisticated SA-17 antiaircraft missiles to Lebanon. The Syrians and their allies said the target was a research facility in the Damascus suburb of Jamraya.

Haaretz even published a map showing the two locations:

As I noted at the time, whether Israel was trying to destroy a moving or a stationary target was significant because if the target turned out to be stationary, then the timing of the strike was most likely determined as much by the Israelis as by the circumstances.

The idea that highly sophisticated Russian-made missile systems were just about to slip across the Lebanese border and into the hands of Hezbollah, was clearly intended to convey Israel’s sense of urgency.

But now Syrian TV has broadcast footage of what is claimed to be the aftermath of the strike: damage to the research facility at Jamraya outside Damascus.

The Times of Israel reports:

The video also shows what appears to be a destroyed mobile carrier for an SA-17 anti-aircraft missile battery.

But on the contrary, what the video shows is the remains of an SA-8 missile battery, an air defense system that has been in service for over 40 years.

Syrian SA-8 missile launcher apparently destroyed in Israeli air strike.

SA-8 missile launcher.

The New York Times now reports:

A senior United States military official, asked about reports that the research center had been damaged, said, “My sense is that the buildings were destroyed due to the bombs which targeted the vehicles” carrying the antiaircraft weapons, and from “the secondary explosions from the missiles.”

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence reports, said that “the Israelis had a small strike package,” meaning that a relatively few fighter aircraft slipped past Syria’s air defenses and that targeting both the missiles and the research center “would risk doing just a little damage to either.”

“They clearly went after the air defense weapons on the transport trucks,” the official said.

Based on the evidence available at this time, the claim that SA-17s were targeted, appears to be baseless. Neither is there any evidence that the SA-8s that were destroyed were heading for Lebanon. Indeed, as the New York Times report suggests — perhaps unintentionally — the SA-8s may well have not been going anywhere. They may have been intended to defend the facility next to which they were positioned*:

By hitting the research center, part of a military complex that is supposed to be protected by Russian-made antiaircraft defenses, Israel made it clear it was willing to risk direct intervention to keep weapons and missiles out of Hezbollah’s hands.

The report goes on to say:

The strike also appeared to be a signal to the Iranians that Israel would be willing to conduct a similar attack on aboveground nuclear facilities if it seemed that Iran was near achieving nuclear weapons capability. But Iran would be a far harder target — much farther away from Israel, much better defended, and with facilities much more difficult to damage. The nuclear enrichment center that worries Israel and Western governments the most is nearly 300 feet under a mountain outside Qum, largely invulnerable to the weapons that Israel is seemed to have used in last week’s raid.

The decision of the Syrian government to reveal the results of the Israeli attack was no doubt intended to serve multiple purposes, but it’s hard to imagine that what looks like an ill-conceived operation will have provoked much fear in Iran.

Was Netanyahu sending a message to Tehran to demonstrate Israel’s strong will, or was he sending a message to Washington about Israel’s limited capabilities?

* In the final paragraph of today’s New York Times report, it does refer to the fact that the missile launchers in the video are SA-8s, but then quotes an Israeli journalist, Amir Rapaport, claiming that the SA-8s were planted at the scene. “Maybe it’s sort of a trick of the Syrians,” Rapaport said. Maybe. But frankly, neither the Americans nor Israelis have a lot of credibility at this point. The existence and destruction of SA-17s in this story is mere hearsay.

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3 thoughts on “Narrative on Israeli air strike on Syria starts to unravel

  1. Kathy

    Nicely presented.

    I believe the timing of this strike, during the Hagel confirmation hearings, and after a very interesting election in Israel, not to mention one of the so called rebel leaders calling for dialoge with Assad after Assad’s speech lamenting no partner to make peace with, is suspect.

    Surely Israel knows that Syria won’t be distracted by this provocation at this time, and if Assad falls there won’t be retaliation down the line either.

    Therefore I believe this is a statement about Israel’s resolve, and has 0 military effect.

    The silence over at the UN is remarkable!

  2. Christopher Hoare

    So, the NYT is the propaganda arm of the Israeli government? Didn’t we already know that? News reports from almost everywhere but the US have been of the air raid against the stationary complex—except where the media has been following American orders.

    Nothing new for the US, but a number of national media outlets in other countries have seriously compromised their own reputations by parroting the lies. Yes, Kathy, the UN in New York must be like a casino after a big pay-out these days. Will the total corruption of the world be avoided, or will we all become Americans?

  3. DE Teodoru

    “This is a test, only a test. In the event that this were a real crisis you would be expected to….” so stay tuned as there’s much more to come!

    The grand notion of Israel, the nuclear master of the Middle East, as the self-assigned priority to world events through total disregard of international law is nothing new. But this recent action as “one for the Giper’s descendants” in the Republican Party is a sad testimonial to its freedom to play politics domestically– in both Israel’s domestic playground as well as in its American satellite– raises many questions about how much of a fait accompli is Israel ready to impose on Obama through use of American weapons against Russian weapons in the hands of Syria. The chutzpa to insist on demonstrating that the USA is, politically, a colony of Israel at a time when Israel is domestically crumbling like its Arab neighbors for much the same general reasons, raises a question of whether there is anything which the US can do to influence event in the Middle East, given the global perception that the US can do nothing to restrain Israeli acts of war in the region because Israel is paralyzing Obama through its domination of the cash-strapped Republican Party. More and more, Israel is pushing the Obama Administration into a polar position: cutting it off severely or be ruled by it in American economic, Russian and Middle East policies. How far the Republicans are ready to go in using Israel to assassinate Obama’s presidency forebodes a most unhappy end for all. Soon there will be no more diplomatic grays in compromised positions available…only a black or white fate for both Israel and its neighbors as Israel’s use of American firepower to play chicken with Obama and Russia in the Middle East powder keg. Obama will have to be quiet, but will also have to use his big stick as Likud is playing for broke!

    Will we be forced to witness the Revenge of the (assumed) “Dumb Goyim” Obama?

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