Latest reports: Israel has now attacked a facility in Syria

Interdicting Hezbollah.

Wars and rumors of wars… OK, let’s sort this out, at least until the next update.  (This is how intelligence works, incidentally.  You work with what you’ve got until the next update.)

The IAF attack on Friday (apparently, early on Friday morning) was targeting an arms shipment.  This was indicated by the profile of the attack, and there has been no reason to revise that assessment.  News and blog sites reference reports that the attack targeted an arms shipment that came from Iran.

New reporting indicates another attack in Damascus, which demonstrates a profile more consistent with an attack on a facility.  The Tower recounts several explosions on Mt. Qassioun, which dominates the northwest quarter of Damascus and houses major weapons facilities.  A Russia Today news item stated that the IAF launched 12 missiles into Syria from Lebanese air space; if valid, that report indicates the IAF used Israeli Popeye air-to-surface missiles to conduct the attack.  The Popeye has a range of about 50 statute miles (78km), allowing standoff attacks.  An ordnance package of this size, and a pattern of multiple, sequential strikes, fit the profile of an attack intended to badly cripple one or more facilities of industrial character, including weapons storage sites.

The explosive weight capacity of the Popeye is also consistent with the character of the explosions seen in the videos at the Tower piece (link above).  I do note that the explosions in the videos appear to indicate strikes on above-ground, non-hardened targets.  These are only a few of the explosions; there were presumably more.

As with the reported strike near Damascus at the end of January, rumors are circulating almost immediately that the IAF used “bunker busters” in the strike on 5 May.  (Initial report here for Hebrew readers.  I haven’t seen this report in English yet for the 5 May attack.)

None of the explosions seen in the videos look like bunker-buster strikes, which would throw up more debris – darkening the explosive bubble – and would in any case exhibit more contained fireballs and plumes, because of the tremendous amount of earth or concrete they are kinetically disturbing.  That said, if there were one or more strikes with bunker busters – Israel has the 5,000-pound BLU-109, weaponized as the GBU-28 – the attacking aircraft would have had to enter Syrian air space and conduct a run over the target.  That is by no means impossible, but it has not been reported.

If there was a strike with bunker busters, it would presumably have targeted underground weapons storage, either on Mt. Qassioun or perhaps in an area slightly north of Mt. Qassioun where Syrian rebels last fall identified what they call Syria’s largest storage facility for chemical and biological weapons: a hardened facility lying between the suburb of Al-Tal and Aysh Wurur.  If Israel has struck something that massive, she will want to follow up with more strikes.  The very limited number she could possibly have brought off in one strike event on 5 May would not be enough to ensure comprehensive damage.

It isn’t possible to say for certain yet where all the individual strikes were.  No evidence has emerged, at this early hour, to validate any claims that bunker busters were used.  But it might emerge later.

The nature and scope of the strikes are what will ultimately reveal their basic purpose.  The analysts at The Tower have emphasized the “Iranian arms” aspect, suggesting that Israel’s urgency with these strikes is to prevent the distribution of arms supplied by Iran.  That concern is actually a separate one from a concern about Bashar al-Assad transferring his own chemical weapons to Hezbollah, or using them in a way that would threaten Israel.

The IAF would attack two different target sets to address these separate concerns.  Interdicting Iranian arms would entail finding the shipments – e.g., in shipping containers or otherwise grouped for transport – and attacking them wherever they are.  Controlling what happens with Assad’s chemical and biological weapons would entail attacking his facilities, independent of whether there are or have been Iranian-supplied arms shipments at them.  A Hebrew report at Ynet suggests that an enormous fireball propelled aloft during the 5 May strikes came from a rocket storage/fueling facility.  Hitting that kind of target would be intended to hamstring the Assad regime’s use of rockets – a reminder that the second basic objective includes preempting Assad himself, or whoever might get hold of his inventory inside Syria.

What Israel is doing at the moment may involve a little of both objectives.  Given the real and continuing threat of chemical and biological weapons, and in particular the threat of their being transferred to Hezbollah, it is important not to lose sight of that concern.  It is doubtful that Israel intends to “send messages” to Iran with these strikes, at least not as the primary purpose.  Israel wants to keep all kinds of advanced or especially dangerous weaponry out of Hezbollah’s hands.  That means that Israel will continue to prevent things from getting to Hezbollah – but she will not widen her intervention in Syria beyond a very narrow set of closely related objectives.

Israel will have the capacity to pursue her own objectives, but she does not have the capacity to act on a larger scale in the Syrian conflict.  We must not mistake what Israel is doing for a form of surrogacy for the U.S.  Israel cannot do the United States’ work for us.  We care, of course, whether Hezbollah gets its hands on dangerous weapons – but that is only one of our concerns about Syria and the Middle East.  Most of our American security concerns can only be addressed by American action.

The conflict in Syria needs to be settled in a way that is advantageous for the U.S. vision for peaceful, consensual relations between nations.  If it is settled in such a way, that will be good for the USA, and it will be good for everyone else, including the Syrian people.  That objective has always required that Assad go, one way or another.  But it also requires that revolutionary Iran’s radical influence be excluded from Syria.  It requires that Russian influence in Syria be counterbalanced, and the potential for threat from it neutralized.  It requires that radical Islamists not be the ones to take over Syria, and it requires that a moderate, non-terror-sponsoring government in Syria have the kind of support from the United States that will enable it to stand against radical Islamists and outside geopolitical forces.

Israel cannot accomplish any of these things.  No one can, except the United States.  We can’t do it all by ourselves, either, but no allied effort in these matters will prosper without active American leadership.  Ultimately, however, the biggest point of all is that the problem of the Syrian conflict is not defined as the “threat of WMD,” and therefore, Israel cannot fix it all for us by targeting the arms that may get to Hezbollah, or be otherwise used against Israel.  Israel is doing what she has to, and it is quite proper for U.S. officials, including President Obama, to endorse her actions as fully justified.  But we are not doing what we should be doing, and that lack is one that no other nation on earth can address.

33 thoughts on “Latest reports: Israel has now attacked a facility in Syria”

  1. “This is how intelligence works, incidentally. You work with what you’ve got until the next update” – you mean you had to turn in your crystal ball when you retired? 😉

    Thanks for these valuable updates

  2. Your hebrew site that you link to says that Israel coordinated with the US in this attack (no, my hebrew is not good enough to read news articles; I used google translate)

    1. Welcome, Brianna. Yes, I saw that too. As I understood the wording, the author (Ron ben-Yishai) is speculating that the attack was probably coordinated, as opposed to “reporting” that it was.

      I don’t believe the US has been surprised by these recent attacks, but I am extremely skeptical that the attacks were MILITARILY coordinated. I suspect Obama was given to understand, perhaps during his visit to Israel, that Netanyahu would have to do something if Israel’s “red lines” were crossed, and the president said something like “You gotta do what you gotta do, Bibi. We won’t stand in your way.” There may have been a courtesy phone call between defense chiefs when the strike sorties were launching.

      I do NOT think that the strikes were operationally coordinated, with the US knowing all the details and/or having input on the tactical objectives. I get the sense that ben-Yishai is implying such a thing, but as speculation rather than firm knowledge or information. There is nothing about these strikes that suggests they had to be coordinated operationally with the US.

  3. Syria will be ruled by either an Assad and his supporters or by radical Islamists. Realistically, there are no other alternatives.

    Neither is interested in “peaceful, consensual relations between nations”.

    If Assad stays, then so too will the influence of Iran and Russia.

    There is little body of support for a moderate, non-terror-sponsoring government in Syria that the US can support.

    That is the essence of the problem.

    Even were Romney President, there would be little International or domestic Syrian support for the US attempting to establish a moderate, non-terror-sponsoring government in Syria. A leader cannot lead if no one will follow and without that support, the proposition of successful US involvement is DOA.

    Just as you cannot make “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, the US cannot help to establish a peaceful, moderate and consensual government in a region devoid of the societal requisites for establishing such a society.

    There are in history; historical imperatives, waves of change that cannot be denied. Such an ideological change is happening in the M.E. That we abhor the nature of that change; a resurgence of radical Islamism…in no way lessens the reality of that historical movement. Once radical Islam fully sweeps through the region, leaving jihadist nation states and the certain to follow wave of aggression sweeps out of the M.E.’s natural borders, then another conflict, quite probably nuclear, will stop Islam’s expansionism.

  4. Seems Assad, Nasrallah and Khamenei haven’t taken the bait.

    Syrian goverment forces continue to make headway against rebel held positions.

    It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any headway between Kerry and Putin today in Moscow. Probably the best outcome for all concerned.

  5. Just a couple other interesting tidbits I’m sure you all have heard by now.

    UN investigator Del Ponte say Syrian rebels used sarin nerve gas

    Former Bush administration official Wilkerson says chemical weapons use in Syria an “Israeli false flag operation”.

    White House spokesman Carney says there is certain evidence Assad used chemical weapons.

    To paraphrase Capt. Willard from “Apocalypse Now”….

    “Oh man.. The bullsh*t piled up so high in ‘Syria’, you needed wings to stay above it”

    1. Del Ponte didn’t do any investigating. She read reports of purported witnesses.

      and Wilkerson probably said no such thing. that bit of speculation attributed to Wilkerson likely was from one of the several NorK-trained Wilkersonian impersonators. originally they were assigned as roller-skating waiters in the late Dear leaders disco parties, but with the change of administration and all, other uses for them are being tried.

      1. 🙂

        Here are some more good ones.

        Israeli and Turkish officials conclude draft accord on “Mavi Marmara” dispute… Erdogan then proceeds to call Israeli air strikes “unacceptable”, “unjustified”.

        Arab League called for UN security council to act to stop Israel’s “aggression” against the territorial integrity of an Arab state.

        I guess it’s acceptable and justified to meddle in the internal affairs of an Arab state only if you are the likes of Turkey or Qatar…

        like Willard said “you need wings…”

        1. “meddling” is somewhat different from sending your air force to blow stuff up.

          while I’m not in agreement with Erdogan, he’s not off the wall here.

          1. Turkey does, for its interests in Syria, what it can. If it could send its air force to bomb targets in Syria , it would. But it can’t. Trouble for Turkey would then break out on multiple fronts.

            I didn’t think the third Israeli air strike was such a hot idea either.

            As they say “three strikes and yer out”

  6. Quasyr, and by extension Hezbollah and Lebanon, is in the news these days. So here are a couple of links, in case you missed them. This first one from alakhbar is refreshingly objective for a lefty/Shia paper.

    Just to keep the comments section rolling

  7. #2 on Hezbollah

    1. more significantly perhaps, are the explosions in Beirut following the warning to Hezbollah that if it continues to fight in Syria it won’t be safe from attack anywhere.

  8. Perhaps, but a superficial read of the situation gives the conclusion that Assad & Co. have the initiative and got this in bag… barring an unlikely (illegal) direct Western or Israeli intervention.. . giving him big time leverage in the run up to Geneva II (if the opposition can get it’s act together, so there is a conference of course).

    In Lebanon and Syria it’s boiling down to everybody (Shia, Alawite, Kurd, Christian, moderate Sunni) vs. the lunatic Sunni animals and their enablers. I hope we don’t get sucked into ending up on the wrong side.

    BHO doesn’t want to touch Syria with a hundred foot pole Fuster. I agree with him. Frankly, unilateral or “coalition of the willing” style intervention would border on the insane…which rhymes with McCain.

    1. I also agree that we should keep out of Syria.

      but I will venture to say that a large part of the wariness of the Obama admin is based upon their extreme desire not to have any military confrontation with the Iranians, either here or in Iran.

      1. This administration wishes, rightly so, to avoid all unnecessary direct military confrontations, if possible. They have a case.

        Realistically, we are: broke, sequestered, hopelessly polarized, legislatively gridlocked,,McCained, Holdered, war weary, thinly deployed, burning readiness(credit Optcon), vulnerable to offensives by insurgents in our slow withdrawal from Afcrap, at the mercy of Russia and Pakistan for supply routes, facing simultaneous potential multiple fronts opening against our allies in North East Asia.

        As if that wasn’t enough, our Middle Eastern vassal/allies’ tails. constantly attempt to wag the dog(us), to further their own interests, at our expense.

        The troops deserve a breather, IMHO. We are going to have a serious morale problem the way the Armed Forces are being handled. That could prove disastrous.

        That said, if jaw jaw fails and push comes to shove, even this administration will have to deal with Iran, if the threat peaks on its watch.

        1. and yet, after the Iranian elections of 2009, the opticon was asking whether we shouldn’t be considering bombing the barracks of the Iranian army and para-military to provide relief to the beleaguered and bloodied protesters.

          1. I have sons in uniform so I’m wary whenever anyone urges war. That’s a dad’s rational reaction.

            I don’t trust the Iranians and neither should you. This business will take a long time to play out.

            In the meantime, sarin gas stockpiled by al-Nusra was uncovered by Ankara in Adana. What do you make of them apples?

            S-300’s anyone?

            1. best wishes for your sons’ safety and health,

              I find that not trusting the Iranian government to be a woefully inadequate response to a rather vile bunch of backward, malevolent creeps.

              thanks much for the mention of the sarin stockpiles. I’m off to Hurriyet to see what I can see.

              1. pickings are slim.

                Reuters carried the story of the arrests…. but……..

                “The police raids were carried out in Turkey’s largest city Istanbul as well as in the southern provinces of Mersin, Adana and Hatay near the Syrian border, said Adana governor Huseyin Avni Cos.

                Cos said unknown chemical materials were found during the raids and sent away for investigation. He denied media reports that a small amount of the nerve agent sarin had been uncovered.”


                far as i can see, it’s RT and the Russian govt pushing the sarin claim and basing it on unnamed Turkish media.

              2. Thanks very much for your best wishes Fuster.

                I didn’t want to go into the Iran thing, hence my lame response.

                Reports now say it wasn’t sarin but some “unknown chemicals”. Anyway, since you mentioned Hurriyet, large Turkish urban centers are rioting in discontent. It will be interesting to see if they continue or peter out.

                1. tracking Erdogan’s use of power in response to dissent is indeed interesting.

      1. Yes, our ally Germany has much experience with chemicals of this nature. Extermination er, I mean chemicals is their kind of business so to speak..

        I hope the Optcon is ok Fuster

          1. Yes.

            Since we are on re-surfacing, Rice as NSA Power at the UN. I did congratulate this president on his reelection and wished him luck. But, the recipe for constant squabbling between the players (Hagel, Kerry, Rice, Power, and, lets not forget …McCain) in American foreign policy for the duration of the Obama administration has just been completed. Reactions in various foreign capitals range from smirks to head-banging. Obama has proven himself , yet again, as being a more competent politician and perpetual campaigner than leader.

            Our leadership in foreign affairs now consist of weak(perceived) realists and disastrous “humanitarian” interventionists, with the exception of McCain, he’s just plain disastrous. This crew is capable of waffling their way to absurd compromises on the direction of foreign policy.

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