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Trish Schuh Reports From Deir al-Zur
Monday, September 17th, 2007
Trish Schuh is the only Western journalist to actually go to Deir al-Zur, the area where Israeli planes are said to have attacked a missile depot.
SYRIA'S SMOKING GUN
by Trish Schuh
Sept. 17, 2007
Written for "Syria Comment"
DEIR EZ ZOR, Syria- On a bridge over the Euphrates River at sundown, neighboring mosques weave a chorus calling Muslims to prayer. This destitute, ramshackle oil town on Iraq's desert frontier seems calm, despite Israel's recent raid on a military base outside the city to destroy "Syria's nuclear program."
The Qamishli-Deir Ez Zor highway, alleged by Israel to be a weapons route for Iraqi insurgents, was also quiet, and there were no heavy construction machinery or building cranes visible in the opposite direction on the road from Deir Ez Zor to Iraq.
At the Syria-Qusayba checkpoint near the Iraq border, I was stopped by the Syrian military. Across the road on the Iraqi side, sounds of American military operations puttered as blackhawk helicopters flew overhead. "No photos," said the Syrian military captain. Cameras could draw US sniper fire.
The surrounding terrain is flat barren desert, with visibility extending for miles. It is difficult to see how smugglers, insurgents or anything that moves could penetrate here. This is also where CNN claimed Israel punched "a big hole in the desert" by attacking North Korean nuclear materials. But the big hole could be in CNN's story.
As far back as 2002, Charles Duelfer of the United Nations Iraq Survey Group called then Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton's nuclear claims against Syria "exaggerated." It was also the assessment of the CIA. In 2004, Muhammad El Baradei chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reiterated that there was no evidence Syria had a nuclear program.
After the invasion of Iraq, former US Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner identified charges against Syria as one of 50 false news stories created by Israel and the White House to justify war. "Saddam's nuclear WMDs moved to Syria" was propaganda he said.
Several days ago, after the attack on Syria's "nuclear program", I spoke to western oil company officials in Deir Ez Zor. One technician told me they routinely monitor radiation as part of the refining process. They registered no heightened levels of nuclear residue in the area as there would have been if the Israelis had hit a North Korean atomic stockpile. Operations and technical foremen put it this way: "The nuclear claims against Syria are pure bullsh*t."
The Syrian smoking gun is the complete lack of any mushroom cloud.