Mysteries still surround Israel's air strike against Syria. Where was the attack, what was struck and how did Israel's non-stealthy warplanes fly undetected through the Russian-made air defense radars in Syria?
There also are clues that while the U.S. and Israel are struggling in the broader information war with Islamic fundamentalists, Tel Aviv's air attack against a "construction site" in northern Syria may mean the two countries are beginning to win some cyberwar battles.
U.S. officials say that close examination of the few details of the mission offers a glimpse of what's new in the world of sophisticated electronic sleight-of-hand. That said, they fault the Pentagon for not moving more quickly to make cyberwarfare operational and for not integrating the capability into the U.S. military forces faster.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last week that the Israelis struck a building site at Tall al-Abyad just south of the Turkish border on Sept. 6. Press reports from the region say witnesses saw the Israeli aircraft approach from the Mediterranean Sea while others said they found unmarked drop tanks in Turkey near the border with Syria. Israeli defense officials finally admitted Oct. 2 that the Israeli Air Force made the raid.
U.S. aerospace industry and retired military officials indicated the Israelis utilized a technology like the U.S.-developed "Suter" airborne network attack system developed by BAE Systems and integrated into U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle operations by L-3 Communications. Israel has long been adept at using unmanned systems to provoke and spoof Syrian surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, as far back as the Bekka Valley engagements in 1982.
Air Force officials will often talk about jamming, but the term now involves increasingly sophisticated techniques such as network attack and information warfare. How many of their new electronic attack options were mixed and matched to pull off this raid is not known.
The U.S. version of the system has been at the very least tested operationally in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last year, most likely against insurgent communication networks. The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions where approaching aircraft can't be seen, they say. The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading messages that allow a number of activities including control.
Clues, both good and unlikely, are found in Middle East press reports. At least one places some responsibility for the attack's success on the U.S.
After the strike, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Watan reported that U.S. jets provided aerial cover for Israeli strike aircraft during the attack on Syria. Similar statements of American involvement were made by Egyptian officials after the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel.
More interesting is the newspaper's claim that "Russian experts are studying why the two state-of-the-art Russian-built radar systems in Syria did not detect the Israeli jets entering Syrian territory," it said. "Iran reportedly has asked the same question, since it is buying the same systems and might have paid for the Syrian acquisitions."