The Dair El Zor Hoax

by , October 16, 2007

The great "mystery" arising out of the recent Israeli strike at Syria – purportedly targeting a nuclear-related site near the town of Dair El Zor in the northern part of the country – has been the subject of much speculation, but its real purposes have been hidden behind the veil of obfuscation deliberately thrown over the affair by the Israelis and their media amen corner. The gale winds of another Israeli propaganda campaign are blowing at full force across the American media landscape, perpetrating a hoax of outrageous proportions: namely, that the Israelis knocked out a nascent nuclear facility. In a replay of the disastrous Judith Miller fabrications, the Times makes it look like the Syrians, with North Korean assistance, had constructed a nuke plant that was just about to go online:

"The attack on the reactor project has echoes of an Israeli raid more than a quarter century ago, in 1981, when Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq shortly before it was to have begun operating. That attack was officially condemned by the Reagan administration, though Israelis consider it among their military’s finest moments. In the weeks before the Iraq war, Bush administration officials said they believed that the attack set back Iraq’s nuclear ambitions by many years."

What a lot of nonsense. The Iraqis had completed a nuclear facility that was fully operational and could have produced weapons-grade materials. The Syrian project has been going nowhere for 40 years, as Joseph Cirincione, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and a senior fellow and director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, informs us:

"It is a basic research program built around a tiny 30 kilowatt reactor that produced a few isotopes and neutrons. It is nowhere near a program for nuclear weapons or nuclear fuel."

Who cares about facts when you’ve got a perfectly good excuse to run a sensational headline? In any case, "many details remain unclear," as the Times piece puts it, which gives the editors an out. However, I’d trust Laura Rozen before I’d trust the Times, and she relays the following far more plausible account from Intelligence Online:

"In attacking Dair El Zor in Syria on Sept. 6, the Israeli air force wasn’t targeting a nuclear site but rather one of the main arms depots in the country.

"Dair El Zor houses a huge underground base where the Syrian army stores the long and medium-range missiles it mostly buys from Iran and North Korea. The attack by the Israeli air force coincided with the arrival of a stock of parts for Syria’s 200 Scud B and 60 Scud C weapons."

The moment this story hit the headlines, the alarm on my bullsh*t meter started clanging pretty loudly. But what, one wondered, was the purpose of this elaborate deception?

First, it was meant as a warning to Iran, a clear demonstration that the Israelis can and will act if Tehran fails to curb its ambition to join Israel as a full-fledged member of the nuclear club. Furthermore, it was meant to show Washington’s solidarity with Tel Aviv in this matter: in spite of doubts arising from the Rice-Gates faction within the administration, the Americans gave the Israelis the green light. It also, I believe, prefigures, on a much smaller scale, the sequence of events likely to trigger war with Iran: an Israeli strike, Iranian retaliation via Hezbollah, followed by American intervention, which would be practically inevitable.

Second, the Syrian hoax aims at derailing the recent U.S. agreement with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear apparatus. If North Korea is "proliferating," it’s already in violation of the accord, and the neoconservatives in the administration and its periphery are already howling that the deal is off.

Third, and, in my view, most important in the long run, this whole propaganda campaign is designed to make an ideological point. As Joshua Muravchik put it in the Los Angeles Times Sunday morning:

"Law is largely a matter of practice and custom, and it is gradually changing to accommodate new realms of self-defense. Had American forces found nuclear weapons in Iraq, or a nuclear program nearly ready to produce weapons, the international assessment of our decision to invade would be very different today. That we made an appalling mistake about Iraqi WMD shows the risks of the new doctrine that Bush proposes – but it does not diminish the issue that gave rise to that doctrine.

"The evolution of our thinking about these issues will be at the forefront of the debate as Washington moves closer to a preemptive (or ‘preventive’) strike against Iran’s nuclear program."

Yes, "the evolution of our thinking" will be helped along by the Israelis, who, as we know, are always in the vanguard when it comes to pushing the boundaries of prudence, not to mention morality and basic human decency. From "Israel has the right to defend itself," a phrase we’ve heard with metronomic regularity over the years, the progression to "Israel has the right to preemptively attack whomever and whatever it pleases" – based on "secret" intelligence – is a cognitive leap made easier by Israeli boldness. What it’s all leading up to is an assault on Iran that may well be sparked by an Israeli provocation.

It’s fitting that the whole propaganda campaign is based on a gigantic lie, one that surpasses their previous record in its brazenness and sheer scope. This is the War Party’s signature style. In spite of reports that Israeli commandos landed on Syrian soil and made off with "nuclear materials" – a highly unlikely made-for-TV-movie scenario – one imagines that if this were true, they would have displayed the evidence by now. And what about the IAEA? Surely their scientists would have detected the nuclear emissions from such a bombing raid: yet we have seen no evidence, no announcement, no nothing. What’s up with that? It’s all verrrrrry suspicious.

As Joe Cirincione put it to the BBC:

"This appears to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted ‘intelligence’ to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda. If this sounds like the run-up to the war with Iraq, then it should."

It’s the same gang, with the same agenda, only this time their lies are on a bigger scale – and the stakes are much higher. What’s amazing, to me, is that, even with this kind of record, these guys appear to be getting away with it. Once again, the major news media outlets are acting as conduits for war propaganda – and instead of displaying the least bit of skepticism, they’re more gullible than ever.

Read more by Justin Raimondo