Thursday, October 04, 2007

More Kamm and No Wiser

Oliver Kamm September 23, 2007:

The most important story of this week and of most others is one on which there is a paucity of public information. We know that Israel made a bombing raid on Syria on 6 September. Everything else is conjecture or the product of unattributable briefing, but The Sunday Times gives a lucid account: ...

[Long excerpt]

Oliver Kamm today:

There is an important article in The Spectator by James Forsyth and Douglas Davis about Israel's bombing raid on a Syrian target on 6 September. The authors of the article believe we narrowly escaped World War III. They reconstruct events this way: ...

First thing to notice is that an Ollie post isn't really complete unless the word 'important' appears in the first sentence. The second thing is that the Forsyth and Davis story is, as OK noted a fortnight ago, "conjecture or the product of unattributable briefing" and differs considerably from the Sunday Times version.(I like "They reconstruct events ...". The Times seems more reliable.

Today the site near Dayr az-Zawr lies in ruins after it was pounded by Israeli F15Is on September 6. Before the Israelis issued the order to strike, the commandos had secretly seized samples of nuclear material and taken them back into Israel for examination by scientists, the sources say. A laboratory confirmed that the unspecified material was North Korean in origin. America approved an attack.

Enquiring minds may want to know how "the commandos had secretly seized samples of nuclear material" and I'd be glad to be disabused of my ignorance of forensic processes which can determine the country of origin of radioactive material.

The destination was not a complete surprise. It had already been the subject of intense surveillance by an Israeli Ofek spy satellite, and within hours a band of elite Israeli commandos had secretly crossed into Syria and headed for the town. Soil samples and other material they collected there were returned to Israel. Sure enough, they indicated that the cargo was nuclear.


What was in the consignment that led the Israelis to mount an attack which could easily have spiralled into an all-out regional war? It could not have been a transfer of chemical or biological weapons; Syria is already known to possess the most abundant stockpiles in the region. Nor could it have been missile delivery systems; Syria had previously acquired substantial quantities from North Korea. The only possible explanation is that the consignment was nuclear.

This version suggests that a commando raid gathered "soil samples" (stranger things have happened - in Mordor, for instance) and that a newly arrived nuclear shipment contaminated the soil extremely quickly. It also goes in three paragraphs (I cut two) from "Sure enough, they indicated that the cargo was nuclear." to "The only possible explanation is that the consignment was nuclear." I'm also suspicious that these tests revealed nuclearosity or nuclearity or whatever without any mention of isotopes or any of that tricky physics stuff.

But Oliver called this an "important article". Not as news presumably, but as analysis.

The scale of the potential threat - and the intelligence methods that were used to follow the transfer - explain the dense mist of official secrecy that shrouds the event. There have been no official briefings, no winks or nudges, from any of the scores of people who must have been involved in the preparation, analysis, decision-making and execution of the operation. Even when Israelis now offer a firm 'no comment', it is strictly off the record. The secrecy is itself significant.
Israel is a small country. In some respects, it resembles an extended, if chaotic, family. Word gets around fast. Israelis have lived on the edge for so long they have become addicted to the news. Israel’s media is far too robust and its politicians far too leaky to allow secrets to remain secret for long. Even in the face of an increasingly archaic military censor, Israeli journalists have found ways to publish and, if necessary, be damned.

Not even "winks or nudges" - so the whole of the foregoing was made up? And this is Kamm's original piece.

This is an extraordinary development. And what is most extraordinary about it is what has not happened. Israel, even more than the United States, is a polity where it's very hard to keep things secret. Yet this one hasn't been leaked.

Will someone reveal where Kamm and Forsyth and Davis get their information (which includes Israeli pilots' briefings, not normally released I'd have thought)?

UPDATE: edited because I quoted one paragraph from OK twice and forgot to insert the link to the Spectator. Also when I read the Spectator piece there were two comments (there are now five; three of which are skeptical) the first of which asks a reasonable question ("Sir If an operation on the scale of that suggested by Douglas Davis and James Forsyth's article had taken place, would there not be distinctive and measurable radioactivity in the area?") and the second says "...I've got to read your news to find out how close we came to World War 3..." In other news, if I hadn't stopped my bike at a junction yesterday morning, I'd have been flattened by a truck. A blog post on how close I came to death seems imminent.

This morning in the Torygraph: US 'must break Iran and Syria regimes'. I suspect that the Sunday Times and the Spectator are dupes of neo-con propaganda. (The US Senate won't buy regime change on its own, so let's try the WMD thing again.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I rather prefer this interpretation:

He's a prize sucker, Ollie, isn't he?

10/04/2007 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Decent Telepathy?

10/04/2007 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only possible explanation

a phrase which is actually banned from one mailing list I subscribe too (the "sensible conspiracy theories" one) because it is the single greatest source of analytical errors.

10/05/2007 07:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This looks like a prime example of what some guy was writing about in last week's "New Statesman": non-attributable, deniable, off-the-record briefings by spies.

Did anyone buy you lunch, Ollie?

10/05/2007 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Arms Control Association has an article about nuclear forensics. The main difficulty in identifying the source of the nuclear material is the acquisition of samples from the nuclear powers' programmes for comparison.

It's worth remembering that North Korea is in the process of shutting down its nuclear programme in return for aid. According to the IAEA, it currently has no operational reactors. Undoubtedly it has stockpiles of fissionable materials but it does seem that it has abandoned for the moment its strategy of nuclear brinksmanship.

10/05/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is the idea that Syria and North Korea would want to trade in Nuclear weapons technology rarely questioned?

NK has little to gain and a lot to lose. Having just concluded a deal with the US to get what they actually wanted (money), with their Axis of Evil status now downgraded, why would they throw that away for a few quid of Syrian money? It's not they give a toss about a regional conflict between some occidentals.

As for Syria, if they are like the Decents imagine, and their every waking moment is consumed with a burning desire to wipe Israel off the map, surely nukes are a rubbish strategy? Even if one buys the technology, it still takes years to enrich enough uranium and manufacture the warheads and delivery systems. They're never going to overcome Israel's bigger budget and a 40 year head start. And it's impossible to develop the things without being noticed (if there was a way, Iran would have found it - even Israel's program was discovered by the USSR before they had a finished weapon).

10/05/2007 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And most nuclear proliferation in the last 20 years has been carried out by someone from Pakistan who is now sitting quietly at home watching the camel-racing on Al-Jazeera.

10/05/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a phrase which is actually banned

The thing is, Holmes was wrong - once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains must be... possible. And, er, that's it. To me, conspiracism as such isn't nearly as dangerous (or as current) as the 'white crow' pseudo-falsificationist mindset, which essentially says if we can find holes in their account, it proves that our account was true all along! I wrote about this at some length for Lobster a while back, reviewing an anthology called You are being lied to.

10/05/2007 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once you have eliminated the impossible you are left with the hypotheses that you haven't yet tested.

Of course in everyday life we make decisions without testing all the underlying assumptions, though it depends on how risky the planned actions are. Decency still seems to see war as a low risk activity, which would seem to explain why they are led to "only possible explanations" that involve a bit of bombing.

10/06/2007 11:44:00 AM  

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