Trish Schuh Reports From Deir al-Zur

Trish Schuh is the only Western journalist to actually go to Deir al-Zur, the area where Israeli plans are said to have attacked a missile depot.  

SYRIA'S SMOKING GUN
by Trish Schuh
Sept. 17, 2007
Written for "Syria Comment"

DEIR EZ ZOR, Syria-   On a bridge over the Euphrates River at sundown, neighboring mosques weave a chorus calling Muslims to prayer. This destitute, ramshackle oil town on Iraq's desert frontier seems calm, despite Israel's recent raid on a military base outside the city to destroy "Syria's nuclear program.

The Qamishli-Deir Ez Zor highway, alleged by Israel to be a weapons route for Iraqi insurgents, was also quiet, and there were no heavy construction machinery or building cranes visible in the opposite direction on the road from Deir Ez Zor to Iraq. 

At the Syria-Qusayba checkpoint near the Iraq border, I was stopped by the Syrian military.  Across the road on the Iraqi side, sounds of American military operations puttered as blackhawk helicopters flew overhead. "No photos," said the Syrian military captain. Cameras could draw US sniper fire. 
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The surrounding terrain is flat barren desert, with visibility extending for miles. It is difficult to see how smugglers, insurgents or anything that moves could penetrate here. This is also where CNN claimed Israel punched "a big hole in the desert" by attacking North Korean nuclear materials. But the big hole could be in CNN's story. 
As far back as 2002, Charles Duelfer of the United Nations Iraq Survey Group called then Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton's nuclear claims against Syria "exaggerated."  It was also the assessment of the CIA. In 2004, Muhammad El Baradei chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reiterated that there was no evidence Syria had a nuclear program. 
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After the invasion of Iraq, former US Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner identified charges against Syria as one of 50 false news stories created by Israel and the White House to justify war. "Saddam's nuclear WMDs moved to Syria" was propaganda he said. 
Several days ago, after the attack on Syria's "nuclear program", I spoke to western oil company officials in Deir Ez Zor.  One technician told me they routinely monitor radiation as part of the refining process. They registered no heightened levels of nuclear residue in the area as there would have been if the Israelis had hit a North Korean atomic stockpile. Operations and technical foremen put it this way: "The nuclear claims against Syria are pure bullsh*t." 
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The Syrian smoking gun is the complete lack of any mushroom cloud.
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The Israeli raid managed to stir up public passion in Syria. Face Book's most popular new group for Syria is: Syrians Are Ready To Defend Against Israel… 486 members (189 new)

Comments (26)


1. Rev. Mike Nahas said:

So, my version of the facts on “News Round Up, sept 1” is not that nonsensical, after all!

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September 17th, 2007, 3:59 pm

 

2. Ghassan said:

“This is also where CNN claimed Israel punched “a big hole in the desert” by attacking North Korean nuclear materials. But the big hole could be in CNN’s story.”

If there are no holes, why does not the Syrian regime invite reporters to the area?

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September 17th, 2007, 4:36 pm

 

3. Hala said:

Why? Because Deir Ez Zur and Homs ARE the locale of Syrian national military bases. This is well known and every country’s legitmate defense right- But they DONT have nukes. Would any country let foreigners in to their national security military zones? No. And certainly Israel wouldnt- and certainly not Syrians. Why should Syria do otherwise?

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September 17th, 2007, 4:47 pm

 

4. Nur al-Cubicle said:

Why do not enterprising reporters just go there, as did Ms. Schuh? But as we learned from the tribulations of Joseph Wilson (who went to Niger to investigate the false claims of uranium purchases by Saddam), if you dare to investigate, you will be hounded out of your job.

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September 17th, 2007, 4:49 pm

 

5. khalal said:

Trish Schuh doesn’t know anything about Syria!! Really nothing!!

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September 17th, 2007, 5:15 pm

 

6. Nur al-Cubicle said:

With respect to yesterday’s comments concerning the remarks of that loose cannon, Bernard Kouchner, on war with Iran, Italy’s FM Massimo d’Alema has harshly criticized him as well as Austria’s FM, Ursula Plassnik.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the German government, Ulrich Wilhelm, said the following about Mr. Kouchner. “For us there is no option other than a political solution”.

French Prime François Fillon was prompted to do some damage control, rebuking Kouchner mildly by saying that “force is the last resort of responsible policymaking.” I hope that’s a loaded statement.

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September 17th, 2007, 5:28 pm

 

7. jo6pac said:

Hi
Thanks Trish for the truth something that always missing lately in the US Press except McClatchy. Keep up the great work here at Syria Comment.
jo6pac

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September 17th, 2007, 5:29 pm

 

8. Alex said:

South Korean foreign minister also agrees that the story is ridiculous.

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September 17th, 2007, 5:38 pm

 
 

10. Richard Silverstein said:

Thanks for the link to my post.

Though I remain skeptical about the MSM story put out by Israel & the U.S., I do have one nagging issue: Syria’s reaction. It was not what one would’ve expected in such a situation. Why not petition the Security Council for action? Why not provide the world something tangible that allows it to judge what happened? And why tell the Israelis that their silence is warranted in the situation? It makes me believe they were involved with something that would not look good if revealed to the world community. But what that is I couldn’t say.

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September 17th, 2007, 6:42 pm

 

11. Murphy said:

Richard,

There’s a discussion on Syria’s silence in the thread below. As I pointed out there, however, given Israel’s traditional tendency to brag, their silence is at least as newsworthy.

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September 17th, 2007, 7:40 pm

 

12. Solomon2 said:

One technician told me they routinely monitor radiation as part of the refining process. They registered no heightened levels of nuclear residue in the area as there would have been if the Israelis had hit a North Korean atomic stockpile.

Curious. In my experience, real-time instruments like Geiger counters are insufficient for properly evaluating heterogeneous contamination and I don’t see why a refinery would have one of those anyway. I believe oil refineries typically use nuclear track “etch” detectors for evaluating radon levels. These are just like the radon monitors for home use and their purpose is to monitor radiation exposure for health assessment purposes of the workers. It isn’t a real-time instrument, but a little can you set out for a week or month and then send away for analysis.

Either my knowledge of such things is insufficient and this refinery is using a different instrument, or it was just a little too soon for that technician to make such a sweeping statement.

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September 17th, 2007, 8:41 pm

 

13. blowback said:

Solomon2 – your knowledge on most things is insufficient.

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September 17th, 2007, 9:03 pm

 

14. Nur al-Cubicle said:

And just for the record, what reporters blew the whistle on NigerGate? Enterprising journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzo of Italy. Not those useless yesmen who work for major US media.

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September 17th, 2007, 9:28 pm

 

15. fugitive peace » Blog Archive » “It’s not what you know, it’s what you think you know” said:

[…] I think it’s still OK to say that Israel launched a big raid and had good reasons for doing so. Beyond that, nothing is verifiable. The cheerleaders point to hints of something fishy, such as changes to the port records of a ship that docked in Syria three days before the raid carrying (supposedly) cement. Doubters turn up signs that what Israel hit, if anything, wasn’t nuclear. An Israeli journalist, Yigal Laviv, repeats the argument that if there were proof of nuclear material in Syria, Israel and the US would surely be trumpeting it to the skies (partial translation here). But then again, if there was nothing incriminating in Deir al Zur, surely Syria would be doing the same. […]

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September 17th, 2007, 10:09 pm

 

16. Frank al Irlandi said:

Gideo Levy in Haaretz is interesting.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/904138.html

He seems to be just as worried as we are that something is being cooked up.

Part of the reticence may be to protect whatever source identified whatever it was that got hit.

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September 18th, 2007, 3:38 am

 

17. @haliya said:

If there was an overwhleming “blast of a North Korean nuclear cache” like WaPo claims and Israelis brag about- that amount of debris would register on field instruments

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September 18th, 2007, 9:47 am

 

18. gh said:

This article is a joke.

There would not be any “mushroom cloud”. So much for the “smoking gun”.

El Baradei is no longer credible.

The Israeli target is quite far from the Iraqi border and from this article, it does not appear that the reporter actually entered Syria.

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September 18th, 2007, 10:23 am

 

19. kagan said:

GH youre an idiot. Grow up- the placement was between Deir & the border of Iraq, but outside Deir. If she went to all the way to the Syria/Iraq border, her ground was well covered. Youre obviously some little shill for the zionists, go away. A nitwit like you calling el Baradei ‘not credible’? what do you know?

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September 18th, 2007, 5:40 pm

 

20. john caddidy said:

um, is it just me or did your “correspondent” forget to add any facts to her content-free piece? frankly, all this blathering about what the israeli strike did or didn’t achieve is quite ludicrous. all the armchair analysts posting on this board know zilch about military affairs – let alone have any insight into the IDF’s operations. in time, maybe we’ll learn the real story. until then, do us all a favor and stop spreading misinformation

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September 18th, 2007, 9:46 pm

 

21. blowback said:

KAGAN – you can not reason with people like GH, they live in a different reality. For example, I posted a diary on Kos today about how the western newspapers had ignored the 25th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre – all I got were comments about how the Israelis and Sharon, in particular, were blameless for it.

GH – the only joke around here is you!

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September 18th, 2007, 11:55 pm

 

22. Leah said:

Question: The Israeli air incursion occured 100 miles north of ar-Raqqa — Deir ez-Zour is hours south of ar-Raqqa, far away from the Turkish border…so, technically Deir ez-Zour is not the area where Israeli planes entered Syrian air space, as noted in the introduction to the article. That should be corrected.
Also, the author’s description of Deir ez-Zour as a “destitute, ramshackle” town is regrettable. I found the city to be open, hospitable, and quite lively at night. It’s unfortunate many choose to portray Syria in this manner.

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September 19th, 2007, 2:46 pm

 

23. hi said:

Leah needs to look at documents of the israeli flight path- it circled from the Mediterranean inland along norhtern turkey border southwards by raqqa to deir ez zor and then back out again. please do a bit of research Leah to get your facts straight. NOWHERE does the article ever imply the people are less than wonderful, generous and open. article only describes a desperately impoverished (vulnerable?) town. read the words- not your assumptions. maybe that vulnerability/poverty makes it just the sort of place the US feels it can attack as “low-hanging fruit”?

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September 19th, 2007, 6:39 pm

 

24. Leah said:

To “HI”:

You mention “documents” related to the Israeli flight path — which documents, exactly? All of the information coming to us is from second-hand news reports, there are no primary “documents” to either confirm or deny the exact location. I had based my initial statements on news reports that had reported the strike occured north of ar-Raqqa. I also saw news reports (to a lesser degree) that mentioned Deir ez-Zour. Either way, just because this is a blog comment forum does not mean that there is any need to take on a hostile attitude toward me or be disrespectful. I’m sure we share many of the same views regarding the incursion, but disagree on some other things.

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September 20th, 2007, 7:26 pm

 

25. fugitive peace » Blog Archive » “It’s not what you know…” said:

[…] I think it’s still OK to say that Israel launched a big raid and had good reasons for doing so. Beyond that, nothing is verifiable. The cheerleaders point to hints of something fishy, such as changes to the port records of a ship that docked in Syria three days before the raid carrying (supposedly) cement. Doubters turn up signs that what Israel hit, if anything, wasn’t nuclear. An Israeli journalist, Yigal Laviv, repeats the argument that if there were proof of nuclear material in Syria, Israel and the US would surely be trumpeting it to the skies (partial translation here). But then again, if there was nothing incriminating in Deir al Zur, surely Syria would be doing the same. […]

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September 24th, 2007, 5:04 pm

 

26. Micro Trend Security said:

Leah needs to look at documents of the israeli flight path- it circled from the Mediterranean inland along norhtern turkey border southwards by raqqa to deir ez zor and then back out again. please do a bit of research Leah to get your facts straight.

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July 28th, 2010, 8:03 am

 

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