I’ve been reluctant to comment further on the Israeli strike on Syria, because I still don’t really understand what happened. As Kevin Drum notes, this appears to be a common affliction; even the White House can’t seem to decide what happened:
This is really the damnedest thing. But one thing is sure: the Israeli evidence must have been pretty far from a smoking gun if there’s this much confusion even among the top mucky mucks. Very peculiar.
This story in Aviation Week potentially sheds some light on the means by which the Israelis evaded Syrian air defenses:
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 where 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 that allow a number of activities including control.
If that’s true, then the motivation for the strike may have been a warning for Iran. Drum suggests that the Israelis wouldn’t have tipped their hand about such capabilities if they weren’t certain that they were hitting something big. I’m not so sure. The intent of the strike may have been to demonstrate to the Iranians (who have similar air defense capabilities) that they are not secure from Israeli airstrikes. If that’s the case, then I find it mildly reassuring; states that don’t want war tend to flaunt their capabilities, so as to deter foes. States that do want war, or that at least view war as inevitable, tend to hide their capabilities as much as possible.
I’m still inclined to favor Jeffrey Lewis’ interpretation of the strikes. He thinks that the Israelis struck a shipment of SCUD missiles or missile parts originating in North Korea. This explains the involvement of the North Koreans, while also explaining why the airstrike hasn’t derailed nuclear cooperation with North Korea. I have trouble believing that the US would be pressing forward with this cooperation if we had strong evidence that North Korea was actively proliferating nuclear material. Of course, that would mean that this report about Israelis commandos infiltrating the Syrian site is bogus. This is very much a possibility; one disrespects the capabilities of Israeli commandos at one’s peril, but the image of Israelis successfully invading what would have been one of the most closely guarded installations in Syria, finding some nuclear material, sampling it, and then taking it back to Israel strains credulity. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but it still strains credulity.
Undoubtedly, more to come.
Cross-posted to TAPPED.