Syrian missile test fails, killing 20

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 20, 2009

Reports of a major failure in a missile firing test in Syria has drawn attention once more to the military co-operation between North Korea, Iran and Syria.

According to the report by the Japanese news agency Kyodo, two improved Scud missiles were fired in a test at the end of March. Both missiles veered off-course, and one of them landed in a marketplace in a town near the Turkish border, killing 20 people and wounding 60.

North Korean and Iranian experts reportedly participated in the trials.

This is the latest in a series of failures in the Syrian missile programme over the past few years.

Three-and-a-half years ago, another Scud missile went off-course, exploding over Turkey, and there have been a number of mysterious explosions during the assembly of missiles in Syrian installations.

Western military experts have raised the possibility of sabotage.

Israeli and Western intelligence services have been closely following the purchase of North Korean missile technology by Syria and Iran in recent years.

Israel has yet to officially acknowledge the attack its planes carried out almost two years ago on a North Korean nuclear reactor being built in Syria.

The American government has been trying to engage the Syrian regime over recent months, with President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, visiting Damascus twice.

The United States plans to send an ambassador to Syria in the next few weeks and is trying to restart the talks between Israel and Syria that were held last year under the auspices of the Turkish government.

“It seems that President Assad is relentlessly upping the ante,” said one Israeli official.

“Last week he announced that he is going to visit President Ahmadinejad again. Syria continues to receive arms and know-how from North Korea and Iran and supplies missiles to Hizbollah. At the same time Assad talks to the Americans about the diplomatic process. He is purposefully playing hard to get because he believes he can extract a high price from the Americans for any concessions.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was asked by CNN about a possible Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations. He replied that Israel is “far from even contemplating such things right now”.

Other senior defence officials in Israel, though, have made clear in recent weeks that preparations for such a strike were well advanced. The government, however, is publicly backing the Obama administration’s new deadline of next month for Iran to agree to enter into talks with it, or suffer much harsher sanctions.

Last updated: 10:15am, August 20 2009