12 September 2007

While the dust settles

That mysterious sortie into the Syrian territory, ascribed to IAF, continues to bother the news agencies. Today, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and Ynet in concert with CNN published a new version of the story, with Debka presenting a separate opinion.

What CNN say, with the other three closely following, is:

Israeli aircraft carried out an airstrike inside Syria last week, possibly targeting weapons that were destined for Hezbollah militants, according to sources in the region and in the United States.
What was presented as an incursion at first, slowly but surely becomes a strike.
The Israeli government is very happy with the success of the operation, the sources said.
Which is strange, since the weaponry seem to flow to Lebanon from Iran via Syria on a daily basis, as everyone agrees.
Sources told CNN reporter Christiana Amanpour that weapons have been transferred in this way for the past three or four years uninterruptedly.
What was so special about this specific shipment that warranted a special operation and all that happiness? Sounds fishy. Then, CNN adds another titillating detail (with Israeli papers repeating it, keeping the censorship in mind, obviously):
But the sources told CNN the military operation, which happened Wednesday into Thursday, may have also involved Israeli ground forces who directed the airstrike which "left a big hole in the desert" in Syria.
Hole- shmole, but this ground forces story seems too improbable, at least for what could be called peace time. JP, sticking its head out a bit (where the censor is concerned), presents the following map, allegedly created according to the Syrian FM's reconstruction of the flight:

The distance to be covered by the IAF jets to and from the marked destination would be roughly between 1200 - 1500 km (to and fro totaled), which is quite a trip. And to risk insertion of a ground unit at this distance would require an extraordinarily important shipment of weapons.

All in all, the whole story presented by the "gang of four" sounds too... OK, it sounds like so much crapola. And for once, I must say, I like the Debka version much better.

Western intelligence circles maintain that it is vital for the US and Israel to establish the location and gauge the effectiveness of Pantsyr-S1E air defenses in Syrian and Iranian hands, as well as discovering how many each received. They estimate that at least three or four batteries of the first batch of ten were shipped to Iran to boost its air defense arsenal; another 50 are thought to be on the way, of which Syria will keep 36.

The purported Israeli air force flights over the Pantsyr-S1E site established that the new Russian missiles, activated for the first time in the Middle East, are effective and dangerous but can be disarmed. Western military sources attribute to those Israeli or other air force planes superior electronics for jamming the Russian missile systems, but stress nonetheless that they were extremely lucky to get away unharmed, or at worst, with damage minor enough for a safe return to base.

The courage, daring and operational skills of the air crews must have been exceptional. They would have needed to spend enough time in hostile Syrian air space to execute several passes at varying altitudes under fire in order to test the Pantsyr-S1E responses. Their success demonstrated to Damascus and Tehran that their expensive new Russian anti-air system leaves them vulnerable.

Now, I think, we are closer to the truth. So again, as it has happened quite a few times before, IAF jet jockeys risked to get their arses shot off to get some vital info for the US and Israeli strategy planners and to gather first-hand intelligence about the new Russian gadget.

It also means that not only the IDF brass, but the Pentagon brass as well are happy by the results of the sortie.

Of course, there are some funny sides to the whole story. Take this quote, for instance:
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem and other Syrian officials have been putting out their version of events. The Syrian government said Israeli bombs were dropped on its territory and fuel tanks from Israeli jets were dropped on the Turkish side of the border.
It should be clear that the Hon. FM would vastly prefer to keep the fuel tanks (used, but maybe repairable) instead of used bombs' fragments. Turkey won in this case, too bad.

On the other hand, from other quotes Mr al-Moualem sounded very subdued:
European diplomats who met with Moallem on Sunday in Damascus quoted him as saying that Israel's decision not to comment on the incident was appropriate, given the circumstances. Moallem reportedly told the Europeans that he expected Israel to apologize "through the usual channels." In Ankara for an official visit, Moallem went on to reveal the details of the alleged strike, which according to him resulted in no casualties or damage to property.
I would dare say, he is quite happy with the results and apparent lack of damage. Good.

What is really strange (besides being funny as usual) is the North Korean excitement. Why have they decided to express themselves at all is no less wondrous than the formula used:
According to the report, the Korean Central News Agency quoted a spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry as saying, "This is a very dangerous provocation little short of wantonly violating the sovereignty of Syria and seriously harassing the regional peace and security."
What constitutes a wanton violation if penetrating about 500 km into Syria is stopping "little short", is absolutely unclear, and an NK expert opinion is required.

But anyway, speaking about 500 km, take a look at that JP map. Do you see where the star that stands for Damascus is? Methinks it is quite a lot closer to the Israeli border that that other point. Which should learn Baby Assad a thing or two.

Oh, and the last thing: according to the above mentioned North Koreans, Baby Assad had his 42nd birthday just the other day. Happy birthday, Bashar.

Update: the ink hasn't dried yet, and JP (as usual, quoting another source, NYT), came out with a new scoop:
One Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea. The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria.

“The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” the official said. He said it was unclear whether the Israeli strike had produced any evidence that might validate that belief.
That could explain the NK indignation, but does not explain the bombing and the "big hole in the earth" reported by all. Curiosier and curiosier...

Cross-posted on Yourish.com.