On Sunday night, five “nuclear energy engineers who worked in the scientific research centre near … Barzeh,” Damascus, were killed when their bus was ambushed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. One of the engineers is believed to be Iranian technician. Whether they were killed by gun-fire or by a bomb is unclear.
The research centre referred to is the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), and this event has an analogue in Syria: At the end of July 2013, a rebel mortar shell hit a bus carrying staff from the SSRC in Barzeh, killing six and injuring nineteen.
The SSRC is located in Jamraya in Mount Qassioun, five miles above Barzeh. The SSRC is entwined with Syria’s military-intelligence apparatus—which is to say the people running Syria before the war—and is responsible for research and production of “nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile-related technology.”
The Hizballah this morning said the perpetrators of Sunday’s killings were “terrorists as part of the ongoing plots of the Zionist entity“. Allowance made for rhetorical excess—the regime’s supporters consider all opposition “terrorist”—it would have to be said that the two obvious suspects are the rebellion and Israel, with the balance of probability favouring the former. It is possible that the Arab States, who are if anything more alarmed by Iran’s soon-to-be-nuclear-backed imperial push into the Arab world than Israel, would do something like this, but the guess has to be that this is beyond their capacity.
Given that Iran is now the “occupying force” in areas of Syria held by Bashar al-Assad’s “regime”—the Iranian-controlled the sectarian militias and foreign Khomeini’ist jihadists which are all that remain of his State power—it is worth considering the unfortunate and mysterious series of accidents that have befallen the staff of Iran’s nuclear
weapons energy program.
- January 15, 2007: Ardeshir Hosseinpour was killed while working on the nuclear program in Isfahan. There are conflicting reports about Hosseinpour’s cause of death and his loyalties before death. There is some suggestion that he sympathised with the opposition within the regime, represented at that time by Mohammad Khatami.
- January 12, 2010: Quantum Physicist Massoud Ali Mohammadi was killed by an explosives-rigged motorcycle outside his home in Tehran. There was some confusion about whether Mohammadi actually was a nuclear scientist, and he seems to have signed an opposition petition—this at a time when the regime was still in a considerable degree of panic after the Green Revolution of June 2009.
- October 12, 2010: In Khorramabad, near Iranian Kurdistan, a supposedly accidental fire got out of control at an ammunition base and killed eighteen members of the Pasdaran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). Anonymous Iranian officials have said this was “sabotage“.
- November 29, 2010: Nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari was killed after a man on a motorcycle attached a bomb to the window of his car. A second nuclear scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, was injured in a similar, simultaneous attack in Tehran. (By coincidence this was the same day Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly announced the damage done by Stuxnet.)
- July 23, 2011: Daryoush Rezaeinejad was struck down in eastern Tehran. It was variously claimed that he was a nuclear scientist—including by the regime’s official outlets—and that he was an electronics student at Khajeh Nasir University in Tehran.
- November 12, 2011: There was an explosion at Alghadir missile base in Bid Ganeh, ostensibly an ammunition depot, near Tehran, which killed 17 members of the IRGC. Among the slain was General Hasan Moghaddam, a major element in the Iranian missile program—the veritable “founder of the Guard’s surface-to-surface missile systems” according to one Pasdaran commander—who was an engineer by profession but who had trained in China and North Korea on ballistic missile technology.
- November 28, 2011: North-east of Isfahan, there was an explosion. In this area is Natanz where Iran’s main uranium conversion facility is located.
- December 11, 2011: An explosion at a steelworks in Yadz killed seven workers and injured a further twelve. This factory also happens to produces the special metals required to build nuclear centrifuges.
- January 11, 2012: Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was cut down after two assailants on a motorcycle attached magnetic bombs to his car. Roshan was a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Despite initial efforts to distance Roshan from the Iranian regime’s attempt to produce weapons of genocide—including by Westerners—which included always presenting a picture of Roshan with his son, it soon emerged that Roshan’s intention in his work was the “annihilation of Israel“.
While suspicion fell on Israel for all of these events, some of them seem to be the regime getting rid of people who were either suspected or actual agents of foreign intelligence services, or who were considering defecting.
Israel has struck directly into Syria since the war began, and this we know because of a campaign of leaks by the Obama White House, as part of their now-clear policy of restraining Israel while warming relations with Iran.
Israel had carried out previous operations in Syria.
- September 6, 2007: Operation ORCHARD: Israel obliterates al-Kibar nuclear weapons facility in Deir Ezzor, which had been constructed certainly in collaboration with North Korea and almost certainly also with Iran.
- February 12, 2008: Imad Mughniyah, the Hizballah’s most important operations planner, was killed in Damascus when assassins attached a bomb to his car. Before the 9/11 massacre, Mughniyah was responsible for more American murders than any other individual. His attacks included the barracks and Embassy bombings in 1983 and the beating and torture to death of the CIA’s station chief in Beirut, William Francis Buckley and Robert Stethem, an off-duty Naval officer who had the misfortune to be on a plane Mughniyah ordered hijacked. He also helped organise the massacre of Jews in Argentina.
- August 1, 2008: Muhammad Sulayman, a close clan insider of the regime, who was linked to al-Kibar and was the key intermediary in shipping weapons to the Hizballah, was killed by a sniper in Tartus. WikiLeaks revealed that the U.S. suspected Israel might have been involved.
And these are the known operations since the Syrian war began:
- January 30, 2013: Israel devastated a convoy trying to transfer heavy weapons to the Hizballah in Lebanon and struck at a “scientific research centre” north-west of Damascus, the SSRC.
- April 28, 2013: Israeli jets flew over Bashar al-Assad’s presidential palace in Damascus and struck a chemical weapons site near the capital, according to UPI via the opposition.
- May 3, 2013: While initially reported that Israel struck a chemical weapons plant, it seems that what was actually hit was “a convoy carrying a shipment of advanced long-range ground-to-ground missiles to Hezbollah“—Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles that were being warehoused near Damascus International Airport and Russian-made Yakhont shore-to-sea cruise missiles. Apparently Iran had delivered these the week before. Interestingly, according to the Wall Street Journal, Israel didn’t even have to penetrate Syrian airspace to do this, rather calling into question those mighty air defences. Flying over Lebanon, “Israeli jets used a sudden burst of speed and altitude to catapult a bomb across the border to the target about 10 miles inside Syria.” (As can be seen from the heading of the Journal piece and its contents, the Obama administration’s leaks were early and thorough.)
- May 5, 2013: Israel struck Mount Qassioun, the storage site for Syrian regime’s most advanced missiles—those needed, for instance, to deliver the chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD). It is also the home base of the Republican Guard, the most heavily-fortified zone of the capital. According to Ynet, Israel conducted three strikes on the Damascus-to-Beirut road, one of which hit a site near the Fourth Armoured Division’s headquarters in al-Saboura. With the Republican Guard, the Fourth Division are the regime’s Praetorians. In all Israel hit twelve targets, including Iranian-supplied missiles that were en route to the Hizballah, and a Syrian regime facility staffed by members of the IRGC. It has also been reported that the SSRC was hit (again).
- July 5, 2013: There were explosions at a naval barracks and weapons depot on the outskirts of Latakia City, around the Mushayrafet al-Samouk district. Yakhont anti-ship missiles may well have been the target and it is certainly possible that this was Israel.
- July 27, 2013: The “Revolutionary Leadership Council in Quneitra and the Golan” posted a report on its Facebook page that the Israeli Air Force had struck an army base in Quneitra. The strikes apparently denied the Hizballah access to advanced long-range missiles.
- August 1, 2013: An earth-shaking explosion occurred in Wadi al-Zahab, an Alawi-loyalist neighbourhood of Homs City. This was initially reported as being caused by rebel fire on an “ammunitions depot”. It was notable even at the time that there was a large “phosphate processing plant” no more than 800 feet from the previously identified arms depots—and phosphate does not combust or explode in this way, though CWMD would, and Homs was known to be a storage site for such munitions. As it turned out this was an Israeli strike and it was indeed on a chemical weapons facility.
- October 30, 2013: A Syrian air defence base near Snobar Jableh village, twenty miles south of Latakia City, housing an Air Force division important to the Assad despotism, was completely destroyed, almost certainly by Israel. The target seems to have been a Russian-made SA-3 battery of S-125 Neva/Pechora surface-to-air missiles, which have a a twenty-mile range. Also hit was “a command center with a radar to track the missiles’ targets and broadcasting antennas to track the missiles as they are launched“. It was also reported that SAM 8 anti-aircraft missiles were destroyed. Initial reports had suggested this was a naval strike but it was an aerial one, and the missiles were struck because the dictator was planning to send them to the Hizballah. It was in response to the Obama administration’s leaks about this operation that Israel struck back, accusing the U.S. of “selling our secrets on the cheap.”
- January 2, 2014: Rebel sources said Israel had struck into the Shekh Daher neighbourhood of Latakia City, apparently hitting a warehouse of S-300 missiles.
- February 24, 2014: Israeli warplanes struck at the Hizballah just inside Lebanon, in Bekaa’s al-Nabi Shayth.
- June 22, 2014: After a civilian vehicle of contractors, carrying out routine maintenance work for the Israeli Defense Ministry in Quneitra, was attacked, injuring two men and murdering one of their sons, Israel struck nine targets inside Syria, killing three soldiers and injuring ten.
[UPDATE: for an ongoing tally of Israeli operations in Syria, see here.]
In short, while Israel’s interventions in Syria so far have been to try to keep the crisis contained, above all by keeping long-range missiles out of the hands of the Hizballah, it is not beyond the realms of the possible that Israel has sought to complement that intention and buttress her security by damaging the weapons of mass destruction program the Assad tyranny maintains, even as the Obama administration pretends that it has removed Assad’s chemical weapons.
There are some other things worth bearing in mind, primary among them Israel’s increased role in southern Syria. Israel has provided medical care amounting to tens of millions of dollars to wounded Syrians, not just civilians but members of the resistance, too. Israel has also stepped up support to the rebellion in southern Syria.
The basic intention for Israel is to secure the border, and keep it out of the hands of Jabhat an-Nusra, Syria’s al-Qaeda branch. This has involved the provision of de facto strategic cover to the rebellion’s rear in the Quneitra-Deraa area, and the provision of intelligence and weapons, allowing some rebel advances.
It is worth noting that as Nusra (al-Qaeda) attacks the rebellion in Idlib, it has done the same in Deraa. Nusra might no longer have a unified command structure, but with two of its branches openly at war with the rebellion and its other main branch in Qalamoun collaborating with the Islamic State, notably for the raids in Arsal, it rather calls into question the idea that Nusra is helpful to the rebellion.
Nusra has garnered for itself popular support by its military prowess, provision of social services, and dawa (proselytization), but it is foreign-led and even if its rank-and-file, which is majority-Syrian, was drawn in for reasons of resources, the leadership is globalist in outlook, caring nothing for the Syrian State. In other words, Nusra is the Islamic State with a “hearts and minds” campaign, and the mask is beginning to fall.
It was still a mistake for the U.S. to strike at Nusra, even under the cover of the “Khorasan Group,” without also striking the regime, because of the perception—indeed the reality—that this put the U.S. on Assad’s and Iran’s side, but the long-term strategy should always have been to break apart Nusra, neutralising its leadership and drawing the rest of its members into the mainstream insurgency.
Israel has also had to contend in Syria with the fact that Russia is deeply involved on the ground, and using its position for espionage against Israel, data it can be fairly certain is being passed not only to the regime but its masters in Tehran.
And of course if Israel has taken out nuclear scientists in Syria, it is to Iran that the message is directed. As the U.S. moves ever-more-flagrantly toward full-scale détente with the Iranian theocracy, the Obama administration believes it has prevented Israel from attacking the Iranian nuclear-weapons facilities, and they are probably correct. But Israel can still enforce some limits on Clerical Iran.