Jeffrey LewisFSA Overruns Al Kibar

Update | 10:24 pm 25 February 2013 Our reader friend sends along a fourth, high resolution video in which the narrator explains that the missiles on stationary launchers were to fired from inside the building, through openings in the roof.  No, I don’t understand why.

The other day, a reader got in touch with some interesting news.

This was no normal reader, mind you, but the same person who trekked to Halabiye after the Israel strike on what turned out to be a covert nuclear reactor under construction near Dair Alzour (or Al Kibar, if you prefer. Or Deir ez-Zor  Or Dayr al-Zawr. Or Der Ezzor. Or Deir Azzor. Or D’yer Mak’er.)

At the time, this person was able to confirm that the earthen berm constructed by Syria did, in fact, block the sightline up into the valley in which the reactor was nestled (Tourist Trip To Halabiye, 28 October 2009). The reader did not manage to get closer, owing to the efforts of Syrian security posted at the bridge.  The story remains one of my favorites, although I must strongly encourage readers never to do anything like this again.

Anyway, same-said reader emailed me a trio of videos demonstrating that Syrian opposition forces have overrun the former reactor site.  I started looking at the videos yesterday, got hung up on identifying the missile in the building, and then decided to take the kids to the pool.  It was an afternoon well spent sipping wine in a hot tub, but the result is that by this morning, Reuters’s Khaled Yacoub Oweis had me scooped.  Living well is still the best revenge.

Back to work.  The Syrian opposition does appear to have over-run Al Kibar — unless ARK is renting out Elstree Studios.  Here are links to the three videos, along with comments:


1. السيطرة بشكل كامل على مقر الكبر النووي من قبل لواء جعفر الطيار وجبهة النصرة 22 2 2013 (“Full control over the al-Kibar nuclear site by Jaʿfar al-Tayyār brigade and al-Nusra front.”)

[From Google Translate, I make the title something like: 22 February 2013 Fully in control of the Al Kibar nuclear site by Jafar [his honorific works out to be “the pilot” which can’t be right.] and the FSA.]

This is the money video that establishes the location — I’ve stitched together screen captures for comparison with an overhead image.  The two structures, including the blue building constructed on top of the destroyed reactor, are dead ringers, as are some of the more subtle terrain features.  I’d call this a high confidence identification.

2. 2013 صوير ثاني لصاروخ السكود الذي تم السيطرة عليه من قبل الجيش الحر في مقر الكبر النووي المحرر 23 2 (“Second picture of the Scud missile, over which full control was established by the Free Army in the liberated al-Kibar nuclear site.”)

[Again from Google Translate, something like Second Scud Missile under control of the Free Syrian Army at the Al Kibar nuclear site.]

This is the interesting video.  Scud missile?  That’s not good enough! As I have noted before, the late (great) Ze’ev Schiff reported that North Korea sold Libya and Syria something called (we call?  they call?) the Scud D.  After Libya coughed up its Scud C missiles, the range appeared to confirm Schiff’s reporting. “When Libya gave up its MTCR-class missile programs in 2003,”  the US side told the Russians in leaked, not-safe-for-work accounts of the Joint Threat Assessment, “it showed the U.S. a missile it called the ‘Scud-C.’ However, it had a longer range than the missile we refer generally refer to as the Scud-C.”  Sounds like a Scud D to me!

So which one are we looking at?  A plain ol’ Scud?  Or something more interesting?  For comparison, here are Iranian Shahab 1 and Shahab-2 missiles which correspond to the Scud and Scud C. The problem is that I just don’t know enough about missile details to try and ponder whether we’re looking at a run-of-the-mill Scud or something really interesting.

3. 2013 قاعدة اطلاق صواريخ سكود في مقر الكبر النووي المحرر بالكامل 22 2 (“Complete launch base of the Scud missiles in the liberated al-Kibar nuclear site.”)

More of the same, but included for completeness or at least the aspiration towards.


Here is the full text of the Scud-D story.  ‘Twas lifted from a bulletin board, so one may wish to check for accuracy.

Syria adds new long-range Scud to arsenal

By Ze’ev Schiff, Ha’aretz Military Editor

North Korea has supplied a new, longer-range Scud ballistic missile to Syria  and is in negotiations to sell the weapon to Egypt as well.

The Scud D, whose range is estimated to be 700 kilometers was unknown  until recently. The original missile, which was made by the Soviet Union, is  known as the Scud B, and most Arab countries with Scuds have Scud B  missiles in their arsenals. Its range is approximately 300 kilometers.

North Korea developed a newer version, the Scud C, with a range of 500 kilometers. Syria acquired that version and has begun assembling them in a local plant set up by the North Koreans. It is also possible that Syria has begun producing Scud parts. Western sources estimate that Egypt has also become involved in producing Scud C missiles.

The Scud D is believed to have been sold to Syria and Libya. While its range  is estimated at 700 kilometers, Syria only needs a 500-kilometer range to cover most of Israel, although it seems that Damascus’ intention is to be
able to deploy the new missile deeper in its territory while keeping Israel within range.

It is not known whether the payload of the new missile is any different from its predecessors or if its guidance system is any more accurate.

What is certain is that Syria has taken a great leap forward in terms of its missile arsenal. Before, Damascus assembled missiles from parts purchased from other countries – none of the missile parts were produced in
Syria. Now Syria has acquired the ability to make some missile parts on its own, though it still must buy some parts from other countries. In its efforts, Syria is closely cooperating with Iran, which is providing Damascus with
rocket fuels.

Syria also possesses chemical warheads for its missiles. It is estimated that Damascus has more than 300 missiles and 26 launchers, in addition to dummy launchers.

Libya is also showing renewed interest in acquiring and developing missiles. After sanctions for its role in the downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 were lifted, Tripoli renewed its missile-acquisition efforts. The Libyans are also showing interest at North Korean missiles with a 1300-kilometer  range, which served as the prototype for the Iranian-made Shehab-3.


  1. Allen Thomson (History)

    If the FSA is taking requests, someone should suggest that they check out the secondary structures that weren’t hit in 2007. Probably nothing much is left, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a look, get some pictures.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      I was tardily updating the sourcebook this afternoon and found these:


      Syrian rebels say willing to work with IAEA
      Roi Kais
      Published: 02.24.13, 10:20

      A spokesman for the Free Syria Army hinted Sunday [2013-02-24] that the rebels would be willing to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors into the Al-Kibar nuclear facility, which they seized last week.

      The Al-Kibar facility, according to foreign media reports, was nearly leveled by a 2007 air strike, presumably launched by Israel.

      “We’re willing to cooperate with the IAEA if our conditions are met,” the FSA said in a statement.

      The London-based Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat further quoted a commander of one of the rebel brigades as saying that the rebels would be willing to lend the IAEA their cooperation in investigating the site, “As long as the revolution is protected.”

      He added that the FSA has set up a special security parameter around Al-Kibar, to protect it.


      IAEA has no contacts with Syrian opposition on Al-Kibar site – Amano
      04/03/2013 | 10:28 PM

      VIENNA, March 4 (KUNA) — Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano said Monday the agency has so far no contacts with the Syrian opposition forces who captured Al-Kibar site in the eastern Deir Al-Zor Governorate recently.

      There are sticking issues related to the alleged nuclear site which was bounded by the Israeli warplanes on September 6, 2007, Amano told reporters here after the IAEA Board of Governors began its first meeting of the year.

      “As far as the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic is concerned, I renew my call to Syria to cooperate fully with us in connection with unresolved issues related to the Deir Al-Zor site and other locations,” he said.

      The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed control over the site on February 24 after fierce fighting against the regular troops.


  2. Rene (History)

    Here’s the translations:

    1. Full control over the al-Kibar nuclear site by Jaʿfar al-Tayyār brigade and al-Nusra front
    (Ja’far al-Tayyar was a companion of the Prophet)

    2. Second picture of the Scud missile, over which full control was established by the Free Army in the liberated al-Kibar nuclear site

    3. Launch base of the Sculd missiles in the fully liberated al-Kibar nuclear site

  3. Rene (History)

    Or, the third one could be “Complete launch base of the Scud missiles in the liberated al-Kibar nuclear site.”

    You don’t have to publish my comments; you can simply update your translations if you like.

  4. krepon (History)

    Next time, show us photos of hot tub activity. We’ll ask ACW photo-interpreters for analysis.

    • Magpie (History)

      Bioweapon production? My favourite!

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Sadly, I am easy to spot even from space.

  5. George William Herbert (History)

    First and second video links seem to be the same video… ?

    Curios, someone seems to have hit the corner of the building with some artillery, with the various panels blown off…

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Found this clicking on a link off the other one:

      That seems to be the video showing the blue building from up on the bluff over the little draw it’s in.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Ok, the links are fixed and translations are updated. The reader also sent yet another, much better video from inside the building that is atop the post.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I’ll clean up the post tonight.

  6. Olli Heinonen (History)

    Jeffrey, these videos have with a great likehood taken at Al Kibar. The structure of the building both from inside and outside fits what was seen at the site in summer 2008. The Scud launching structures are as I recall them. Same with the liguid fuel storage. The launching hangar was erected on the concrete platform (not overly solid – built in haste ?), which covers entirely some on the remnants of the old building.

  7. JFC Fuller (History)

    Firing the scuds out of the roof of the warehouse (the launchers are actually bolted to the floor, this does not even seem to be a storage facility) is very early 1950s. I at first wondered whether they were trying to create something innocuous looking to evade detection but a giant shed in the middle of a desert on top of a bombed out nuclear reactor hardly pulls that off. The entire thing is very confusing. Putting on my “asymmetrical/hybrid war will kills us all” hat I am left wondering how many other Scud firing warehouses might be hidden around Syria.

    • b (History)

      Launching more than one missile out of a flimsy building seems not plausible. It looks to me like a training facility.

    • Eve (History)

      Looks like one launcher was a little grilled, the question though is what happened to the rest of the building.

  8. Marius (History)

    If you take a closer look at the roof of the building, you will notice five squares which are casting small shadows. These squares seem to be the missile hatches. All these hatches measure 4,20m in width, which is more than enough for a Scud-D missile with an 0.88m diameter.

    But the question is: Why did they construct a missile base in the remote eastern? My assumption is, that Syria had interest in extending it’s “deterrence capabilities”. With Scud-D missiles based at Al Khibar , they would have been able to strike Israel from a save distance. In the end, these missiles would not have been save from an israeli preemptive strike, since we all know, that they managed to destroy their nuclear power dreams, with two F-16 jets.

    • JFC Fuller (History)

      I am struggling with the same question, and the only conclusion I can come to is that this is a rather poor after the fact attempt to claim that Al-Khibar was a generic military (not nuclear)facility all along. Perhaps the Syrians planned to claim that they had rebuilt their missile base that the Israeli’s had bombed?

      If the Syrian’s really wanted to extend their deterrence then Iranian style TEL’s would be a much safer solution rather than a fixed missile base built on top of an already bombed and high profile nuclear site.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      “… this is a rather poor after the fact attempt to claim that Al-Khibar was a generic military (not nuclear)facility all along.”

      That’s my best guess.

    • Marius (History)

      Even if they were really interested in extending their deterrence, you will have to ask yourself, against which country or potential enemy they would have increased their deterrence. Against U.S. troops based in Iraq, or Turkey? The only country which poses a real threat to Syria is Israel, which bombed their reactor. Maybe this missile base is just a senseless defiant measure, to make the Israelis afraid of their more or less primitive deterrence capabilities.

      This building already exists since october 2008, in a year where nobody of the Syrian administration thought of an civil war. It seems, according to the reuters article, that this missile base was also used against cities held by rebels. I can imagine myself, that the Syrian army pulled some Scuds from their ordinary bases, for example Al Safirah, and deployed them in this building to make sure, the rebels don’t get their hands on these too fast. The syrian army possesses some IL-76, which could have been used to deliver some Scuds to the air base south of Dair-az-Zur. From there the Syrian army could have transported them with trucks to the Al Khibar site.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      ““… this is a rather poor after the fact attempt to claim that Al-Khibar was a generic military (not nuclear) facility all along.””

      “That’s my best guess.”

      If I may add a very modest “me too”, me too.

      One might fantasize that the hard facts needed to finally nail down the truth about Al-Khibar will out some day. But for now, I go with the reactor story. That story has many gaps in it, but it does seem best to fit what information is now available.

  9. masoud (History)

    I’m having a little trouble understanding the Non Proliferation Party Line over here.

    Was Al-Khibar meant to be a nuclear reactor or a missile base? Why would Syria build a secret missile base on top of a secret nuclear reactor?

    • John Schilling (History)

      Al-Khibar was, once upon a time, meant to be a secret nuclear reactor. The secret got out, and the (incomplete) reactor was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force. Some time later, a secret missile base was established in the place where the reactor used to be.

      All of this is now known with a fairly high degree of confidence. Why the missile base was built in place of (not on top of) the reactor, is still unknown. This is what we are discussing here.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Gee, I didn’t ban you? Well, I can fix that.

  10. Sineva (History)

    If the syrians have mobile launchers why on earth would they build above ground fixed launchers that stand out a mile away I would have thought they would`ve learned their lesson from the fate of the previous structure on the site,especially since they could have built silos or a hardened shelter/launch site for mobile launchers as iran has done in both cases this would also have done an excellent job of covering up anything they wanted to hide.That building doesn`t look like it would survive one launch let alone several unless the syrians have pioneered a cold launch system which I doubt.It does look more like a training mock up but then why bother with the roof hatches,also the hatches on the left side are different to the ones on the right.This building poses more questions than it answers but then thats been the story of this site from the beginning

    • Marius (History)

      All hatches are actually the same. I checked them with Google Earth and they all measure approx. 4,20m in width.

      I think the Syrian army had interest in making their Scud test launch procedure more clandestine. According to they were believed to fire their Scuds from the Minakh airfield. Perhaps they purchased some more sophisticated missiles from Iran in 2007/08 and i don’t think that the Syrian army would have been interested in firing them from an airfield were Israel could have spot them with an ease.

  11. George William Herbert (History)

    Those missiles, with those fuels, are exceptionally bad to fire indoors.

    I hope nobody practiced…

    • Eve (History)

      They certainly fuelled them and then grilled them, but did they cook the exterior of the building? Or the hatches?

  12. George William Herbert (History)

    Would it be inappropriate aid to the resistance to hire them to dig up the foundations of the old building?

    Or better to wait until after it’s all over?

    • Bradley Laing (History)

      For some reason, your statement made me think of the famous hotel ballroom that was actually a giant Cold War bomb shelter for the U.S. Congress to live in.

      Maybe the rockets and blue building are a cover story for something *below* the floor? With the point being that the guys who installed the rockets and building were not supposed to know what was happening beneath their feet?

  13. Bradley Laing (History)

    I have a possible solution: the institution was run by an ineffective person, and the right hand of the government did not know what the left hand was doing, at the time.

    • Sineva (History)

      The problem with that hypothesis is that what you have there is in no way a missile base,it is a fairly large lightweight industrial structure,steel beam construction with aluminium or steel cladding,inside you have one missile erection system and frankly sod all else.I would really like to see anyone try and fire a missile from inside that building,if anything it looked more like a training simulator of some sort.If the syrians had wanted to build a missile base as some sort of cover up it would not have been that hard to do,a handful of silos,hell you don`t even need silos you can just have the silo end caps,the chinese are supposed to have had some of these fake silos,but if you wanted to go for an extra bit of realism you can have silos with unfueled missiles with dummy warheads,the syrians could easily have done this if that was their intent.If it was meant as a cover up the person responsible for this travesty should be forced to stand under a rocket motor as it fires

  14. simorgh (History)

    Well, here’s my explanation:
    After the raid the Syrians badly needed a cover to reject requests for inspection.
    So they decided to build a military facility in order to reject inspections on the grounds of “national security considerations”. However, given the remoteness of the place, the little space within the Wadi and the weird location of the site in general, a missile base, despite not making a lot of sense, was still the cover that made “most” sense.
    Look at the location on google maps again, constructing barracks an ammunition depot or some communications faciity on the spot where the reactor used to be, would have been simply laughable. Forthermore, ballistic missiles are the Syrian most sensitive non-WMD military assets. Again, this makes it easier to refer to the national security argument.
    Just imagine you are Assad, or his military commander in 2007. You have to build a new facility that covers the traces of your naughtiness and provides an excuse for not letting inspectors in. What else would you build if not a missile base?

  15. JO (History)

    At 1:41 in this video

    there is a set of circulation pumps suitably sized for a reactor. Other view angles too.

    • JO (History)

      Also the sizing of shell tube heat exchanger. Looks to be at least partially custom fabricated not a drop in unit.

  16. Cthippo (History)

    Something I noticed…

    In the stitched together still image on the at the top of this post the roof of the building is intact, but in the videos taken inside the building it’s mostly destroyed. One wonders if perhaps the damage we’re seeing was done by the government forces after the building was captured by the FSA.

    Either that, or someone ignored the “no smoking” signs.

  17. JFC Fuller (History)

    The Syrians must be burning through their scud stockpile at quite a rate if this is true:

    I suppose it is one way of achieving disarmament