“The Consistancy of Error,” by Amir Oren

"The consistency of error,"
By Amir Oren in Haaretz, Oct. 3, 2007

The Haaretz request yesterday morning to the military censor for permission – which it could no longer justifiably ban – to report about the IDF operation in Syria on September 6 without referring to foreign sources was finally approved. Any conspiracy theories behind the motive for this newfound openness are ridiculous. After Benjamin Netanyahu and the BBC, a negative answer would have been more stupid than what the Israeli press had become accustomed to hearing over the past month.

Following many weeks of feverish work the censors decided to take a break.

Since the operation the censors have fought on two fronts. One, external, against the Israeli media, which hoped to fulfill its duty and publish as many details as possible on the operation.

The second, internal, had to do with the raison d'etre of the censor – which under government pressure, and particularly from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, sought to seal the mouths of Israeli journalists. Were they to fail in their stringent guarding of secrecy, the matter may have been brought to the courts, which would have made the censorship redundant and put an end to the dispute over how necessary it is.

Consequently, while plenty of light was shone on the incident in the world press, the Israeli press had to feel its way in the dark.

The farce came to a partial end yesterday, and even though there is still a gag order on most of the juicy details, we can safely say that behind the successful blackout campaign lies an enormous failure. The silence of official Israel was not meant to protect military secrets. The victim of the operation knows full well what he had and what happened to him.

Policy was shaped on the basis of a certain assumption about Bashar Assad's behavior in response to the operation. Since one option was chosen – silence – and not others, it is impossible to say with certainty what would have happened had Israel talked and thus added insult to the blow. Still, it seems that once again Assad surprised Israel; whoever expected him to respond to the operation in a military operation was wrong.

If there is one quality characterizing Israel's efforts to decipher the actions of the Assad dynasty in the past four decades, it is the consistency of error. Collecting information about Syrian capabilities has normally been very good. Forecasting the intentions of the Syrian leader has been very bad. Nearly everything Israeli experts expected Hafez Assad to do – up to his death in 2000 – and subsequently Bashar, were either not done, or the opposite was done.

The intelligence assessment for 1973 was finalized in late 1972: No Syrian – or Egyptian – decision was expected on going to war. In September 1973 the signs on the ground were interpreted as Syrian concerns that Israel would attack. In the Yom Kippur War, even though Military Intelligence kept a plan on Syria's expected war plan, both the General Staff and Northern Command were wrong about the Syrian forces' moves on the Golan.

In early 1981, the IDF shot down Syrian helicopters that supported fighting against the Phalange militia in Lebanon. In a surprise response, Syria slipped anti-aircraft missiles into the Bekaa Valley. In the end, Menachem Begin carried out the official annexation of the Golan. One of his aims was to lead to war with Syria and push the new Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to freeze relations with Israel and offer him an excuse not to evacuate Yamit in the Sinai.

Assad was expected to respond to the annexation with force. In the war maps of the divisions in the North, the lines on which the IDF would counter the Syrian forces – all the way to Beirut – had already been marked. Much to the Israelis' chagrin, Assad frustrated their planning and did not move. In June 1982 the IDF planned to outflank the Syrian army in the Bekaa, "which would have forced them to withdraw without battle," according to the military journal Maarachot. Once more, the Syrians refused to play the roles we had assigned them.

Throughout the 1980s, and especially after Assad surprised by deploying SAM-5 antiaircraft missile batteries around Damascus, Israeli experts warned that the Syrians would attack any minute. Israel prepared for another Yom Kippur onslaught, which never came.

Israel was surprised when Assad joined the alliance against Iraq in 1991, which included the deployment of a division to assist Syria in the American war effort. And after the war was over Israel was surprised by Assad's willingness to send a delegation to the Madrid peace conference.

In 1996, after the failure of the Rabin-Peres government's negotiations with Assad, Israel scared itself into expecting another Syrian attack. This was in part because of Syrian military movements on the ground and a great deal because of the false information their Mossad spy handler, Yehuda Gil, brought them.

We can go on listing the failures, all the way to the present, which begins with last year's assumption that there would be war in the North in the summer of 2007. The failures end (for now) with assessments by experts that Assad will not refrain from responding to the September operation – the only question remaining was the degree of his response.

If the Syrians are mistaken in their assessments of Israel's intentions as often as Israel is about Syria, the mutual mistakes will lead to disaster in the end. To prevent this there is no need for censorship, just greater openness.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the Israelis struck a construction site at Tall al-Abyad just south of the Turkish border on Sept. 6. Press reports from the region say witnesses saw the Israeli aircraft approach from the Mediterranean Sea while others found unmarked drop tanks in Turkey near the border with Syria. Israeli defense officials admitted Oct. 2 that the Israeli Air Force made the raid.

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The big mystery of the strike is how did the non-stealthy F-15s and F-16s get through the Syrian air defense radars without being detected? Some U.S. officials say they have the answer.

U.S. aerospace industry and retired military officials indicated today that a technology like the U.S.-developed “Suter” airborne network attack system developed by BAE Systems and integrated into U.S. unmanned aircraft by L-3 Communications was used by the Israelis. The system has been used or at least tested operationally in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last year.

The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can’t be seen, they say. The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading messages algorithms that allow a number of activities including control.

A Kuwaiti newspaper wrote that "Russian experts are studying why the two state-of-the art Russian-built radar systems in Syria did not detect the Israeli jets entering Syrian territory. Iran reportedly has asked the same question, since it is buying the same systems and might have paid for the Syrian acquisitions."

The system in question is thought to be the new Tor-M1 launchers which carries eight missiles as well as two of the Pachora-2A system. Iran bought 29 of the Tor launchers from Russia for $750 million to guard its nuclear sites, and they were delivered in Jan., according to Agency France-Press and ITAR-TASS. Syrian press reports they were tested in February. They also are expected to form a formidable system when used with the longer-range S-300/SA-10 which Iran has been trying to buy from Russia. Syria has operated SA-6s for years and more recently has been negotiating with Russians for the Tor-M1. What systems were actually guarding the Syrian site are not known. (Credit: US Navy)

"Weighing Retaliation For Israeli Raid," by Hugh Naylor.

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 3, 2007 (Christian Science Monitor) 
It's been nearly a month since the predawn Israeli air strike on northern Syria. And still no retaliation from Damascus. …

Officials and political analysts here say that in the event of another strike, Syria is preparing to respond using the guerrilla-style tactics of its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. They say Syria, no match for Israel's war machine, is instead adopting the tactics that helped the Lebanese Shiite militia emerge undefeated in its bout with Israel in last summer's war in Lebanon.

"If the Israeli side launches attacks, believe me we will be very harsh in our response," says Mohammad Habbash, a member of the Syrian parliament. "It will be a guerrilla war. There will be guerrilla warfare coming from Lebanon and Syria, and it will be very harsh."

Unconfirmed media reports say Syria has been training its soldiers to fight in the mountainous southern edges of the country, near its border with Israel, using unconventional tactics more in line with a militia than a standing army. A steady supply of rudimentary rockets, which can be transported and launched on short notice and with little manpower, much like those unfurled on Israel by Hezbollah during the 2006 war, are said by Syrian political analysts to be making their way to the south.

"This is hit-and-run war; you don't need a scud missile to do this. The basic philosophy here is defending the land," says a government adviser who, asking to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to discuss the issue, confirmed these reports.

The adviser says that, like Hezbollah, Syria would aim to inflict "civil-economic losses on Israel" with surprise rocket attacks, with the intention of using fear to bring Israeli life to a standstill in a potential conflict.

Officials here insist, however, that they prefer the diplomatic track to war….

Israel has in the past violated Syrian airspace, buzzing the presidential palace with warplanes several times and even taking out a suspected training camp for Palestinian militants near Damascus in 2003. …

… "People are very angry for what they see as a blatant Israeli violation of Syria," says Mahdi Dahlala, a former Syrian minister of information. "They want their government to do something."

Habbash, the parliamentarian, says Syria is more ready now to shore up its ties with Iran, its ally of nearly three decades, in the event of a conflict. "We expect Iran to help us against Israel and aggression, and Iran has the same expectations from us to help protect them."

Still, Syria's apparent readiness to employ guerrilla warfare tactics suggests that it believes that alliance may not be enough to protect the country. Instead, go-it-alone thinking is likely causing the country to rethink its defense strategy, perhaps even its nuclear weapons option, according to Charles Ferguson, a nonproliferation expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. research institution.

"The overriding factor is Syria's sense of vulnerability," says Ferguson. "It lives in a very rough neighborhood and does not have reliable allies to come to its defense. So, from the realist perspective, it would make sense for Syria to at least consider a possible nuclear weapons program."

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