Jeffrey LewisStill Scuds

Regular readers know that, following the lead of the estimable Chris Nelson, I am sticking with explanation that what Israeli struck in Syria was a Scud shipment.

Now, Laura Rozen helpfully posts 273 words of a 290 word story by Intelligence Online, claiming that the mystery target of the Israel raid was … wait for it … a shipment of Scuds!

The parts were shipped from North Korea aboard a container ship flying the Panamanian flag. The U.S. Navy wanted to board the ship in Morocco’s territorial waters but Rabat vetoed the operation. The parts were loaded aboard six trucks in the Syrian port of Tartus on Sept. 3 and took three days to reach Dair el Zor. The trucks and their loads were destroyed the moment they arrived at the underground base. A unit of military police that escorted the convoy was also wiped out in the attack.

The story is actually dated two weeks ago, the snippet doesn’t contain any sourcing and, frankly, I know nothing about the credibility of either Intelligence Online, or its founder Maurice Botbol.

But the detail is interesting. I wonder if it will check out.

Fun Fact: When the Spaniards pulled a shipment of Scuds off the So San, the missiles were hidden under, you guessed it, “cement”.


  1. robot proctologist (History)

    Off topic, but did you see that Robot Economist was shut down by the State Department?

    How sucky is that?

  2. Allen Thomson

    Well, though I tend to think that the Scud story is more likely than the nuke one (reserving the right to do a 180 at any time), it’s still puzzling.

    Syria is said to have had a buncha (dozens to hundreds) of Scuds for quite a while.

    So why strike them now? To send a message to somebody? Because Israel thought there was a significant chance they were going to be launched Il-ward?

    Or what?

  3. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    The unfortunate part of the ‘shutdown’ of Robot Economist is that there is a long historical tradition of legitimate ‘off the record’, ‘casual’, ‘leaks’ or whatever means for people in an official capacity to communicate and trade notes with others.

    Without such communications, no one, no system can function effectively.

    The question is there is a need for a govern (and industry and society wide) policy and norms that lays out ground rules as to what an employee can and cannot do, what a blog can and cannot rule.

    There will be some clear black and whites (like handing out proprietary / classified data), but also plenty of grey areas.

    I wish someone in the blog community would take up this cause and get started on this.

  4. stew (History)

    I have to agree w/ the second post. Great that you’re in favor of the Scud story, but to what end? Why now? Let’s see you flex those analytical muscles.

    A) Message for Iran?
    B) Stick for whatever carrot is dangling in Assad’s face to turncoat on either Lebanon or Iran?
    C) Your ideas?

  5. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Could it be that the Israelis were duped by the US into attacking?

    What bothered me is the lack of noisy protests from Syria that leads me to suspect they had their hand caught in some cookie jar.

    The question is what flavor / brand of cookies?

  6. John (History)

    To Allen Thomson: My guess for why Israel is suddenly interested in Syrian Scuds involves their recent experiments in mating chemical weapons to their Scuds, which seems to have bugs associated with it (ie. the July 23 accident). If Syria got caught importing Scud parts from North Korea with a view to being able to safely mount chemical weapons on their Scuds this would constitute enough of a threat to Israel for them to intervene. Also it would be a case of Israel striking a clearly illegal and immoral weapons program so Syria probably wouldn’t want the details of this getting out.

    To Lao Tao Ren: I think this hypothesis, if correct, would answer your question as well. The cookie jar is the combination of chemical weapons with a delivery system capable of dropping them on Israel.

    To Jeffrey Lewis: I have to agree with stew’s comment. I would like you to do more work on this issue. You are the expert; we are only speculating. Please keep on top of this. The mainstream media and even some of the better internet media (like Talking Points Memo) seem to be swallowing the neocon “Syrian nuclear program” hook, line and sinker. It smells. The whole idea of a secret long-standing Syrian nuclear program, missed by the incompetent intelligence community (That’s you Jeffrey), mushroom clouds as smoking guns, and the Israelis putting a stop to it even though the wise, peace-loving Bush administration tried to urge restraint is clearly neocon crap. I’m surprised no one is screaming BS from the rooftops. Fool me once, you can’t get fooled again, right?

  7. SQ

    I’m not sure how to interpret it, either. We seem to be adrift in speculation.

    What do we really know, or think we know?

    First, there was a precursor incident, an Israeli air strike on a remote site in Syria in September of 2003. The Israelis portrayed it as a counter-terrorist move. The Syrians called it an attack on a civilian target, but did not permit journalists to visit the site.

    Second, the Syrians host the offices of a number of different Palestinian terrorist factions in Damascus.

    Third, in the meantime, the Syrians have gone to work on upgrading their anti-aircraft systems. Some kind of air defense systems were found on a North Korean ship last year in Cyprus, allegedly bound for Syria. More recent reports have the Russians sending sophisticated, short-range air defense systems to Syria.

    Fourth, the Syrians seem to adopt a new generation of North Korean-made Scuds every couple of years. Kim Jong Il alluded to this trade before the assembled South Korean press during the 2000 Pyongyang summit, although he oddly referred to Syria as “Surinam.”

    Fifth, the North Koreans have been testing solid-fueled SRBMs recently.

    Sixth, the reports of Syrian-North Korean nuclear trade seem vague, weakly sourced, and not too credible on the face.

    Make of all that whatever you will!

  8. Robot Economist (History)

    I’m not completely out of the picture.

    There is one problem with the SCUD shipment theory — if Israel has tolerated the presence of North Korean SCUDs in Syria for more than a decade, what was the purpose of attacking them now?

    This is why I’m more willing to believe that Israel was either testing the limits of Syria’s air defenses (which is quite a gamble) or that they felt the need to smack Syria around a little to re-establish a sense of deterrence (which is a rationale that has been mentioned by IDF leadership).

  9. Allen Thomson

    Has anybody seen any post-strike commercial satellite imagery of the site? Or pre-strike for that matter? Do we even know its geographical coordinates?

  10. Hyperion

    There is no actual public evidence that IAF struck anything. No photos, no videos, no witness reports, nothing. Nada. The only evidence of any kind of a “raid” is couple of drop tanks found in Turkey. The rest is speculation based on unknown “sources”.

    Usually when Israel strikes at something, they are very talkative about it afterwards, the same thing even if it’s something as high value as a suspected WMD target (full mission details of Operation Opera for example were in the press just one week after the fact).

    I think the only logical explanation of complete official censorship and just these unattributed leaks supporting many crazy stories, one wilder than the other, is that:

    a) The mission failed and nothing was actually bombed (this doesn’t rule out Assad blaming Israel for bombing “unused military buildings”, just for effect)

    b) The mission succeeded, but nothing was bombed because it was a relatively routine recon/ELINT flight with the exception of deeper than normal penetration of Syrian airspace (including some of Turkey, which happened to leave the only physical evidence of the entire incident).

  11. Allen Thomson

    > The rest is speculation based on unknown “sources”.

    Somehow this is starting to remind me of the BM-25 story.

    I am in the process of trying to find out if there is any post- or pre-strike commercial imagery that might shed light on what was struck (stricken?). So far the answers are negative.