Posted by Joshua on Sunday, September 9th, 2007
The Israeli operation deep into the vicinity of Deir al-Zor two days ago has stirred up a hornets nest. We are still learning about new aspects of it. There are two parts of the story. The operational aspect and the political.
Operationally, the penetration by Israeli military aircraft had to have a military and not reconnaissance mission. Armed Israeli fighters would not be used to hunt. Sat elites or high-speed fighter recon runs would be done first. Then after you know what you want to hit, you send in armed fighters. This is US doctrine, and I can't see why Israel wouldn't employ the same standards. So given what we know about the profile, combined with Syrian claims that the Israeli planes were forced to drop weapons, they were not on a reconnaissance run, but were armed to hit something.
What that something is, we cannot be sure, but it would seem to tie into the North Korean weapons debate. President Bush and John Bolton, representing the Cheney side of the administration, seem to be in a face off over the effectiveness of Washington's Nuclear treaty with North Korea.
President Bush announced that it is possible that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons program before he leaves office. North Korea agreed in 2005 to disclose and dismantle all aspects of its nuclear weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency said the communist regime is cooperating with U.N. experts overseeing the mothballing of key nuclear facilities; IAEA experts last month confirmed the shutdown of four nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.
John Bolton in an Aug. 31 Wall Street Journal op-ed blasted the President's plan, claiming that the Yongbyon facility is among the least important nuclear sites in North Korea's program. It's being moth-balled means little. He believes that Bush is enabling the Axis of Evil because he has lost his political will, just as President Clinton did before him.
Bolton ties the North Korean weapons directly to Syria. As Yoav Stern has written for Haaretz:
In an article published in the Wall Street Journal on August 31, Bolton wrote that, "We know that both Iran and Syria have long cooperated with North Korea on ballistic missile programs, and the prospect of cooperation on nuclear matters is not far-fetched."
"Whether and to what extent Iran, Syria or others might be 'safe havens' for North Korea's nuclear weapons development, or may have already participated with or benefited from it, must be made clear," he added.
Bolton's op-ed suggests that the Cheney side of the administration, which has been at pains to push the need for continued military operations against Axis of Evil members, is not content to be brushed aside. We know about the friction between Rice and Cheney over the direction foreign policy should take.
A number of commentators, including Syria's Vice President Sharaa, have speculated that Israel is being used by President Bush, but this operation could just as well be Bolton/Cheney/Olmert going around Bush and the State Department and elements of the government. They know they can do what they want with Israel and get away with it. In this context, it is not Israel doing our dirty work, but Olmert/Cheney/Bolton doing what they want while laughing at Bush. It wouldn't be the first time. The controversy over whether President Bush or V.P. Cheney ordered the dismantling of the Iraqi army suggests that this has been a frequent dynamic in the administration, even if unprecedented in past administrations.
Israeli journalists are wondering whether the Israeli operation near Deir al-Zor should be named "Osyria" as a counter part to the 1981 Osiraq bombing of Iraq's 40 MW light-water nuclear materials testing reactor at the al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center. It is too early to tell. Bolton complained about North Korean missile technology being passed to Syria. The strike may very well have been aimed at a missile factory.
One Syria Comment reader claims that friends of his in Deir al-Zor reported a military attack. This is what he wrote on the day of the attack:
OK, more from my source on the ground: the Syrian military base next to Deir Ez Zor was hit by an air strike last night around 1:30 AM. That’s significantly much farther to the South than what was implied by the various reports. There are casualties on the base.
The next day: 10:47 Al-Arabiya reported: IAF bombed stockpile of foreign-made missiles in Syria (from Israel Radio).
I spoke with Arab Nir, a foreign affairs correspondent on Israel's largest TV Channel Sunday morning about the bombing. A number of Israeli reporters have contacted me since my original story ran on Syria Comment. They have their own sources in Israel but cannot use them because of Israeli censorship concerning military secrets. In this respect, I am playing the role of Shobbos Goy. Here is how Wikipedia defines Shobbos Goy:
A Shabbos goy (Yiddish: שבת גוי) is an individual who regularly assists a Jewish individual or organization by performing certain acts for them on the Jewish Sabbath which are forbidden to Jews within Jewish law. The phrase is a combination of the word "Shabbos" (שבת), referring to the Jewish Sabbath, and "goy" (גוי), meaning "gentile." It can also refer to a gentile individual who works on behalf of Jews or Israel in a more general sense.
All of this is to say that Israeli journalists are coming to me and using Syria Comment as a source, not because they are basing all their information on my speculation, but because they cannot use their own sources due to Israeli law. There are other sources.
Other interesting article of note related to this topic are"
On the continuing reverberations of Israel's Air Force operation in Syria, read Daniel Levy, "Piecing Together What's Just Happened between Israel and Syria," on is blog "Prospects for Peace." The blog is joint project of the New Century Foundation and the Foundation for a New America.
"Damascus will retaliate," Sharaa says.
Alix Van Buren of La Repubblica talked to an angry Farouk al-Shara, who told her, 'All I can say is that the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming'
Nir Magal, 09.08.07
"Damascus will retaliate," Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara said Saturday in an interview with Italian newspaper Le Repubblica following Israel's reported violation of Syrian airspace on Thursday.
Asked what the response would be, al-Shara replied, "I cannot reveal the details, as this is an issue of national security. All I can say is that the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming."
Al-Shara was visiting Italy for meetings with Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema and Pope Benedict XVI, and spoke to the paper from his hotel in Rome.
The Syrian vice president took advantage of the interview in order to slam the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference scheduled to take place in November.
"The conference will not advance peace, because Washington does not really view it as important, and has turned it into a photo opportunity, aimed at diverting the attention from Iraq.
"Meanwhile, an unprecedented arms race has been launched in the Middle East, increasing the risk of new military adventures, such as Israel's in Syria two days ago. Syria will retaliate for this violation."
Asked about President Shimon Peres' appeal to Syria, speaking of his hopes for peace, al-Shara replied, "Excuse me for smiling. The talks about peace are a disguise for blatant aggression. Moreover, Israel's responses in light of the aircraft's infiltration are amazing, with (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert saying he knows nothing about it.
"This creates the impression that Israel has a week government, which is unable to take courage and follow the road of peace, accepting the Arab world's offer which was approved unanimously."
The Syrian vice president argued that Israel was to blame for the failure of negotiations. "Those who try to cast the blame on Syria forget that we took part in the negotiations for 10 years. We were not the ones who ended the talks. Let history bear witness to that."
Amir Oren writes in Haaretz, "Welcome to the Middle East."
Former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who in years past was the most suspicious in the U.S. administration of Syria's nuclearization, warned a week ago in The Wall Street Journal that Syria and Iran might provide safe haven for prohibited nuclear materials smuggled from North Korea. Syria is uncomfortable appearing at the IAEA conference as a suspect in nuclear offenses, which conflicts with its obligations as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the West is having a hard time breaking the Tehran-Damascus axis. In the past two years, since its forces withdrew from Lebanon, Syria's armament rate has equaled that of the previous seven years.
In an interview published in the current issue of the Israel Air Force journal, IAF Air Directorate Commander Brigadier General Yochanan Loker praised some of the IAF's abilities to strike its targets. These are indeed impressive, especially the IAF's superior intelligence and ability to surprise its targets and their defenses. But their strategic impact is limited. It is very difficult to deliver a fatal blow to the will of a government, people or organization to go on fighting until it achieves its political or religious goals.
The present crisis may blow over, but the fragile nature of relations between Israel and Syria will continue threatening to ignite at any moment. Although war did not break out, joy is premature: No basic problem has been solved. To move ahead to a solution, talk, not silence, is needed.
Israel's envoy to Ankara was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and given a diplomatic protest regarding the alleged IAF flyover of Syrian air space. Here are the photos published by the Turks of an Israeli fuel tank.
Ibrahim Hamidi, Al-Hayyat senior correspondent in Damascus, quoted officials as saying that Syria is convinced that the Syrian military's warning to Israel "against such operations" was "serious, deterring, and non-escalating."
Damascus sources said they believe the alleged operation was a "diplomatic and military experiment" in order to test Syria's reactions and intentions.
Israel is maintaining a complete blackout regarding the Syrian charges. Cabinet ministers and senior IDF officers have repeatedly refused to comment on the alleged incident, either on or off the record.
They did, however, express their satisfaction with developments and the way decisions had been taken during the crisis with Syria in recent weeks.
|"ANALYSIS: The question is, how will Damascus respond?" by Yoav Stern in Haaretz|
Israel’s security and the Russian navy (03 September 2007) Jane’s Information Group
What are the possible consequences of a permanent Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean? Israeli military planners have been grappling with this question since Admiral Vladimir Masorin, the commander of Russian Naval Forces, said in August: “For the Black Sea fleet, the Mediterranean has the highest strategic importance… I think a permanent presence of the Russian navy should be restored there.”
Masorin’s view was seconded by Admiral Eduard Baltin, the former commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet, who said: “The Soviet navy had the capability to keep a permanent naval group in the Mediterranean… Russia can now ensure a military-political presence there.”
Assuming that Admiral Masorin’s words represent the views of the Russian military and the Kremlin, a new and potentially destabilising factor could emerge in the Middle East in the foreseeable future.
Israeli experts say the presence of a Russian naval force, most likely based in the Syrian port of Tartus, would represent a significant strengthening of Russian intelligence gathering capabilities in the region. The Russian navy is considered to have high-quality electronic equipment capable of observing new weapons systems and intercepting communications.
Intelligence experts point to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s emphasis on the importance of intelligence gathering during a meeting of top military brass on 25 July. The Israeli press has speculated the products of these efforts could be shared with the Syrian and other governments hostile to Israel in the region and, in the worst case scenario, with Iran.
Kommersant reported on June 2, 2006, Russia is already dredging the port of Tartus and has begun to build a dock in the Syrian port of Latakia. A defense Ministry source at that time revealed that Moscow plans to a squadron of military vessels led by the missile cruiser Moskva to be permanently based in the Mediterranean Sea.