Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Mystery in Syria - Continued

David Albright and Paul Brannan of ISIS provide a bit more information that may relate to the site in Syria (Dair Alzour or al Kibar) that Israel bombed in April 2008. According to them, they have located at least one of the sites recently mentioned by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung as being related to that site. In a 2006 photo, reproduced here from the ISIS report, rows of items are stored on the ground. The quality of the photo isn't quite good enough to discern exactly what they are, but some surmises can be made.

There are a lot of them. They appear to be cylindrical, with protrusions at both ends. Missiles would have protrusions at one end only. They look to be maybe ten feet long and a foot or two in the narrower diameter; that's a guess from eyeballing them and the buildings in the photos; a more careful scaling might get a better dimension.

They are not gas centrifuges, which are precision instruments and would not be laid out in the weather, unless they are from a disassembled plant. Their shape and number do not readily suggest nuclear reactor components. They could be chemical or biological reaction vessels; again, leaving them out in the weather seems inadvisable, although reaction vessels are more robust than centrifuges. Another possibility is that they are tanks for storing gases or liquids. The substances in question might be uranium hexafluoride, although what Syria would do with these quantities is questionable unless an enrichment plant is found. Or they might hold chemical warfare agents. One of the surmises about the bombed site was that it was for missile storage or other military purposes, and Syria is believed to have chemical and biological weapons programs.

The last seems most likely to me. But, if al Kibar was indeed a reactor, there is no connection other than possibly being operated by Syrian military.


Andy said...

I looked up the site in Google Earth. They are more like 25-30 feet in length. This historical imagery shows they've been there since at least 2004, so it's unlikely they are related to al kibar.

Slightly to the west of the image is what looks to be some towed artillery and towed AAA. If I had to guess, I think the objects in this picture are large caliber towed artillery or AAA, but that's just a guess based on dimensions and shape.

On thing the ISIS report fails to mention is that there is a lot of new construction at this site, specifically new roads to the north and south that hug the hillsides along with a few small buildings adjacent to the roads. Additionally, several roads have been paved and extended to the east along with more new buildings. The construction is absent on imagery taken in July 2009, so the construction took place between then and this past August and it doesn't yet look finished.

I think it's extremely unlikely the Syrians would store any reactor-related items outside so whatever the IAEA is looking for is probably in the buildings.

Andy said...

I asked Sean O'Connor to take a look at them and he agrees they are towed artillery which means this is primarily a depot site for the Syrian Army.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Thanks, Andy! Your more careful interpretation makes a lot of sense.

J. said...

I can't make them out, but I was also going to refer the question to Sean O'Connor. I'll take his word on IMINT issues.