Are DEBKAfile’s reports that Hezbollah are developing dirty bombs in Syria true?

by omouggos

It seems that the Iranians are not the only ones to spread misinformation via the media. It appears that the Israeli news outlet DEBKAfile, is spreading their own misinformation pertaining to Hezbollah, or at the very least they are overstating the immediate threat that Hezbollah poses to Israel.

Recently the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah has threatened the Israeli city of Haifa. According to Nasrallah if Hezbollah’s missiles were to strike an Ammonia storage facility in Haifa, which contains 15,000 tons of Ammonia gas, the resulting explosion would be akin to a nuclear explosion and could kill tens of thousands of people.[1]

This is what Nasrallah said (emphasis mine):

“…this is exactly like a nuclear bomb [striking the Ammonia storage facility in Haifa]. In other words, Lebanon has a nuclear bomb. This is no exaggeration. Absolutely not. We don’t really have a nuclear bomb… It’s a nuclear bomb in the sense that several missiles launched from here, together with the ammonia containers in Haifa, will lead to the same impact as a nuclear bomb.”

Undoubtedly this is no idle threat. Hezbollah does have missiles that can strike Haifa, in fact Nasrallah is arguing for maintaining this military capability[2], and ammonia gas is both toxic and flammable, so a missile strike could easily initiate a far larger explosion, or at the least cause the deadly release of toxic gas. Indeed Israel should take Nasrallah’s threat seriously.

However, DEBKAfile, an Israeli news website with the motto “We start where the media stop,” is speculating that Nasrallah’s comments were a veiled message that Hezbollah “was actively pursuing a radioactive bomb program.[3] They quote Nasrallah’s comments from the speech in question to support their contention, but they failed to quote the “we don’t really have a nuclear bomb” portion of the speech.

Now DEBKAfile concedes that Hezbollah “may not [have an] actual atom bomb” but are instead working on a dirty bomb. According to DEBFAfile this work is being conducted in the Syrian town of Zabadani, which is near to Damascus and only 140 kilometers away from Haifa.

It is possible that Hezbollah is working on a dirty bomb and that Nasrallah’s remarks were a hidden message expressing that fact. However, the latter seems unlikely to me. When I first saw the video in question, which was a few days before the corresponding DEBKAfile report, it did not appear to me that Nasrallah was transmitting a veiled message.

He was merely saying what he was saying. That Hezbollah has the ability, without an actual nuclear weapon, to inflict serious harm upon Israel through the use of conventional weapons targeting vulnerable Israeli targets. DEBKAfile appears to be reading a little too much into Nasrallah’s statements.

As for the claim that Hezbollah is developing dirty bombs in Zabadani, this could be true but based on my superficial analysis it is probably unlikely. Assad is currently fixated with his political and physical survival. While he may be allies with Iran and Hezbollah, groups that hate and want to destroy Israel, and while he may share, to a certain degree, this dislike for Israel, the immediate destruction of Israel is superfluous to his immediate aims and actually counterproductive to those aims.

Israel has previously on numerous occasions bombed targets in Syrian territory and Assad has not responded militarily to such provocations.[4] Why didn’t Assad respond? Simply because he doesn’t need to get into a shoot-out with Israel. He is already preoccupied with fighting the numerous rebel groups that are arrayed against him.

With this in mind, why would Assad allow Hezbollah to build dirty bombs within his territory, when such activities will surely prompt a forceful Israeli military response. In other words why would he needlessly provoke Israel to attack him at a time when he is not strong enough to fight Israel?

It could be possible that Hezbollah’s power within Syria is so great that they are pursuing a dirty bomb project there against the wishes of Assad. However, couldn’t Hezbollah just as easily develop a dirty bombs in their own homeland Lebanon and would they really want to alienate their relationship with their ally Assad? Furthermore Hezbollah themselves appear to be in no condition to have a go at Israel. They to are busy fighting against the Syrian rebels and are experiencing significant casualties in the process.

Taking the current situation into account, it seems unlikely that Assad or even Hezbollah want to engage in a war with Israel, at least in the short term (undoubtedly when Hezbollah and Iran are in a favorable political, economic and military position they may start to test the waters against Israel).

It seems to me that DEBKAfile, whose analysis and reports I find highly interesting and informative, are most likely overstating the threat posed by Assad and Hezbollah within Syria to Israel. Undoubtedly they do not like Assad, because he is allies with Iran and Hezbollah, and with Assad’s position stabilized by Russia’s intervention, they are probably attempting to discredit Assad in any manner possible. Hence hyping the story that Hezbollah under the eye of Assad is developing radioactive dirty bombs to strike Israel with.

Maybe my analysis is wrong and Hezbollah is up to no good in Zabadani, but to me it seems more likely that DEBKAfile is over hyping this threat to smear both Assad and Hezbollah and possibly hoping to instigate Western powers to more strongly intervene in Syria so as to protect Israel from a dirty bomb attack.

O Mouggos

References

[1] http://www.memri.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/5328.htm , http://www.memri.org/clip_transcript/en/5328.htm

[2] Nasrallah said, “All the Israeli officers concur that the missiles of the resistance cover each and every spot in occupied Palestine. We must protect this capability and hold onto it, because it prevents a third Lebanon war. As I told you on the anniversary for the Quneitra martyrs, we do not want war. This kind of war is not part of our strategy, but we must be ready for it, in order to prevent it, and in order to be able to win it, if it takes place.” See the video in reference [1].

[3] http://www.debka.com/article/25268/Hizballah-launches-Chemicals-Dirty-Bombs-program-at-secret-Syrian-site

[4] Here are some examples of recent Israeli airstrikes within Syria most of which appear to be against Hezbollah. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/israel-strikes-syria-golan-heights-150927200119081.html , http://freebeacon.com/national-security/report-israel-bombs-syrian-missile-base/ , http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Report-Israeli-Air-Force-attacked-Hezbollah-targets-in-Syria-430616 , https://www.rt.com/news/326564-damascus-explosion-jaramana-reports/

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