masthead.jpg (121723 bytes)

Scud missiles in Syria

In the 10th through the 8th century B.C., Israel's primary security concern on its northeast border was the Aramean armies of Damascus and other Syrian kingdoms, with their large and effective chariot forces.

In our day, the newest threat from that quarter is the growing number of Scud missiles that, once launched, will soar in an arch reaching over 100 miles in altitude at a speed of approximately 3,500 mph, falling on Tel Aviv -- 150 miles away -- just 3 minutes later. These aren't the inaccurate Scud missiles fired by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War - those were so flimsy, they tended to fall apart when re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. Still, they had to fall somewhere and were a danger, though not usually to the intended target. The new Scud B and Scud C missiles are more accurate, more lethal and possess a greater range.

Haaretz reports on Scuds observed on Google Earth satellite imagery acquired March 22, 2010, of a Syrian military base located approximately 15 miles northeast of Damascus:

The photos, taken on March 22, can be seen by any web surfer on Google Earth. They show extensive construction at several military bases throughout Syria, including at one of the country's three largest missile bases, located 25 kilometers northeast of Damascus, near the city of Adra.

The base is in a deep valley surrounded by 400-meter-high mountains. Concrete tunnels lead from the base into the mountains, where the Scuds are apparently stored.

The photos show five 11-meter-long missiles (the length of both the Scud B and the Scud C ) at the Adra base. Three are on trucks in a parking lot. Two others are in a training area where 20 to 25 people can be made out along with about 20 vehicles. One of the two missiles appears to be mounted on a mobile launcher; another is on the ground.

Damascus_Adra.jpg (169050 bytes)

Actually, flying around that valley in Google Earth, I believe I've identified 12 missiles.

The image, above, shows Damascus and Adra with the northeast continuation of the Mt. Hermon massif behind them. Here, I've exaggerated the vertical scale by a factor of three so the terrain will be more readily perceived. The view is looking north.

Below, the image looks northeast, following the direction of the Hermon range. The city of Adra sits at the base of the range, which here is characterized by a steep-faced ridge that shelters a valley behind it. This is the "deep valley surrounded by 400-meter-high mountains" referenced in the Haaretz article and the location of the Syrian military base where intelligence analysts believe training in use of the missiles is being provided to Hezbollah's army for use against Israel from their bases in Lebanon.

If you haven't done so yet, download the Google Earth plug-in.

I've created a flight that follows the red line in the image, below. Beginning in Adra, we'll fly across the city and the agricultural area to its north. We then climb the steep southern ridge and drop down onto the first Scud site, where two missiles are seen in a large, unpaved staging area. Continuing, we'll see a large mound of dirt, level and vegetated on top but white around the edges. There are several of these on the base and are where the excavated soil from the many tunnels dug into the surrounding mountain sides have been deposited. The newest deposits are around the edges. Whether the mounds do double duty as covers for ammunition dumps or bunkers for troops, I do not know.

We'll briefly fly along the valley's northern ridge to get a sense of scale of the site and then fly to the other side - passing a single Scud on the way - to fly along the base of the southern ridge where a network of tunnels have been built into the mountain's base. They are concrete-reinforced and joined by a paved, recessed road - some of which is covered to give access up and down the hill slope across the road and to hide whatever is going on under the cover. We'll see one Scud sticking out there.

Then, we'll fly back to the center of the valley where three more Scuds are seen on trucks parked parallel to one another. I've marked two additional Scud sites further down the valley, although the flight does not go there. You can navigate on your own when the flight ends. If you're new to Google Earth, check the Flying Tips & Tricks page.

The flight ends with an ascent back up the valley's southern ridge and a final look at the Damascus oasis in the distance.

Adra.jpg (156231 bytes)

There is no vertical exaggeration of elevation in the flight, but the heights are still dramatic. The flight lasts just over 11 minutes if you simply click the play button on the flight controller and sit back - it will take longer if you pause to explore and will zip past if you use the fast-forward feature. Enjoy.

Final note -- click here for a flight that simulates a Scud launch from Lebanon's Beka Valley targeting Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

Note: Sometimes the place names do not display on the flight. The problem is intermittent and I have not yet solved it. If you push the pause button, the place-name labels will then display. Also, I recommend the use of Internet Explorer as your browser. Flights are not viewable with Firefox.