Skip to main content

watch out for exploding tires

Will Syria be moving into the cross-hairs next?
A recent article by the veteran and well-connected Israeli columnist, Alex Fishman, in the Hebrew language newspaper, Yediot Ahronoth, perhaps offers some insights into how Israelis may be speculating about such issues when he warns about "the approaching December winds”. These winds, Fishman tells us, will bring more and new revelations - not about Iran's nuclear ambitions - but about Syria's nuclear projects: the departure of Mohamed ElBaradei from the chair at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he states, will open the door to new IAEA demands to inspect two suspected nuclear sites in Syria.

Fishman notes that, following the surfacing last month in Germany of stories that Israeli special forces had been on the ground covertly in Syria, no one should be surprised if more evidence and photographs of the nuclear reactor, destroyed by Israeli air attack in September 2007, come to dominate the headlines in the Western press this December.

The "star" turn in this prospective public relations campaign is to be evidence proving a direct Iranian nuclear connection and finance for Syria's alleged nuclear project.

Fishman suggests that it suits "Israel's internal as well as foreign PR efforts" for the time being to play along with talk of peace between Israel and Syria; but that both the December campaign against Syria's alleged Iranian nuclear cooperation in the Western press, and the playing along with the Syrian peace track "are directly linked to negotiations" that the US is conducting with Iran. Fishman concludes that these could end in confrontation with Iran - "and also lead to a military strike", in which case, "whomsoever is in the Iranian camp will also get a pounding" - a reference to Syria.
In light of this speculation, the "exploding bus tire" story bears a second look.
A blast has hit a bus in a crowded suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus, leaving several people killed and more injured. The incident took place at around 9 am local time (0700 GMT) on Thursday when a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims exploded at a gas station near Damascus, Press TV correspondent reported.

Syria's Interior Minister Said Mohammad Sammour said three people were killed in the incident, which he said was not a terrorist attack but a tyre exploding as it was being repaired. "Two workers who were repairing the tyre and the bus's driver, who was standing near them, were killed in the explosion," he told reporters at the scene of the incident. Hospital sources said an undisclosed number of people were being treated for the injuries they sustained in the explosion.

Did the bus explode or just the tire? We are told just the tire. How many people died? We are told three.

Well first of all, do tires really explode like this, killing people? It turns out yes, but typically only split-rim tires, which can come flying off the vehicle. Here's one example, and here's another.
Truck tires are sometimes mounted on split-rims, a one-piece locking ring that is split to fit between the rim and the bead of the tire. The split-rim ring is the only thing holding the tire to the rim. Such tires are placed in a protective cage when inflating, in case the split-rim ring slips and causes the tire to "explode." I have heard of exploding split-rims punching holes through cinderblock walls. My guess is the heat from the torch caused the ring to expand and slip.
So it seems that the tires can, indeed, explode off the vehicle. It's less clear that they actually explode like a bomb, or if they did, whether they might explode with enough force to destroy the vehicle.

The trouble comes in when we look at all the inconsistencies in the story. Just as with 9/11 and Fort Hood, and surely in countless other cases of suspected terrorism, it suddenly becomes very difficult to establish simple facts like -- how many dead bodies?

Four? Likely to rise?
Damascus - Syrian Interior Minister Said Mohammed Sammur on Thursday said the deadly explosion on an Iranian bus at a Damascus petrol station was not the work of terrorists. The blast killed at least four people, including the Iranian bus driver and three workers at the petrol station, police and medics said. Police, supervised by the minister himself, quickly removed the wreck of the bus and cleaned up debris from the explosion. The number of confirmed casualties was likely to rise, they said.
Wait, no. Five, six? "Tens of victims?"
(ANSAmed) - BEIRUT - The blast that killed three people in Damascus today set off alarm bells so far as Iran, before the highly secretive Syrian authorities say the explosion was due to the burst of a bus tyre rather than a terrorist attack. The Qatari al-Jazira TV, the first to break out the news about the explosion in a bus that occurred at 08:30 local time, quoted medical sources as speaking of ''tens of victims''. Later in the day, the death toll varied between five and six people, with only one certainty: the explosion was in a bus of Iranian pilgrims visiting the Shiite Shrine of Sayida Zeinab in Damascus.

...Today, after four hours of full silence by the Syrian media --all state-run-- Interior Minister Saiid Sammur appeared on the scene of the blast to announce that the explosion was an accident and not a terrorist attack. ''The bus entered a reparation garage to fix a flat tyre, but the tyre exploded because of high pressure, which killed three people,'' Sammur told the Syrian official TV. ''We have not found explosive materials or signs of a terrorist attack,'' he added. The close-up footage provided by the same outlet showed the wrecked rear part of the yellow pullman, including the engine. The bus' windows were all blown out. ''A nearby wall was also damaged,'' said Sammur. A witness told al-Manar TV of Hezbollah that the windows of surrounding buildings were shattered by the blast. The Saudi Elaph website quoted Iranian ''Asr Iran'' site as saying that ''ambulances carried dozens of injured persons to hospitals and that some of them were in critical conditions.'' The explosion took place as Said Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, was in an official visit to Damascus. (ANSAmed)
Ok it sounds a little more like a bomb than a tire explosion. But no, wait, it was just a tail pipe backfiring, killing up to 20 people. Yeah, that's it.

( Syrian officials denied that a terror attack occurred in Damascus Thursday morning. Arab satellite channels quoted Syrian officials as saying that the incident reported was not an explosion caused by a bomb or missile, but by a backfiring tailpipe on a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims.

The report said that there had been no signs of a bomb or missile at the site, according to Syrian officials. Earlier reports quoting eyewitnesses had described scenes of great destruction and as many as 20 dead in the blast.


So, let's go to some really crack analysis by Jonathan Spyer of jpost. Maybe he can tell us what *really* happened. Here's the link:
The Syrian authorities are currently trying to attribute the blast Thursday on a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims near the Saida Zeinab mosque in Damascus to an exploding tire. However, eyewitnesses earlier reported a bomb explosion on the bus, killing a number of people and causing damage to buildings in the area.

Syria's Interior Minister Mohammad Sammour ruled out a terrorist attack in a statement to state-run Syrian TV. He said the bus driver and two gas station workers were killed when a tire into which they were pumping air exploded.

But a private Syrian television station, Ad-Dounial TV, said six people were killed in the blast, and Iranian state television also reported six killed, including two Iranian bus drivers.

The tire story, on the face of it, looks like a somewhat ludicrous attempt by the Syrian authorities to explain away an alarming episode for the regime. If what took place in the Saida Zeinab quarter was in fact a bombing, rather than an exploding tire, then it may be assumed that the perpetrators were intending to deliver a series of calculated insults.

First, and perhaps most importantly, such an act would constitute an attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The explosion took place as Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, was visiting Damascus. The targeted bus contained Iranian citizens, at least one of whom is reported dead.

This is the second apparent terror attack on an Iranian target in the last two months. The previous incident targeted Revolutionary Guard officers.

Such attacks have the quality of making a regime, which prides itself on its ability to project force and defiance, look suddenly vulnerable. Iran prefers to sponsor, not suffer, the attacks of terror organizations.

Second, such a bombing would be a slap in the face for the Assad regime. Syria has been emerging smartly from international isolation in recent years. Its practice of fomenting trouble for its neighbors - Israel, Iraq and Lebanon - and then offering to help solve the problems it is largely responsible for creating, has been paying dividends.

But a security-state such as Ba'athist Syria holds power because of its ability to inspire fear and impose quiet at home.

In the last two years a series of embarrassing events have served to tarnish the regime's image of chilly authority. The killing of Imad Mughniyeh in February, 2008 was the first of these. The subsequent death of General Mohammed Suleiman in August of the same year further reduced the Syrian Ba'athists' projections of invulnerability. In September, 2008, meanwhile, a car bombing on a security complex in a civilian neighborhood of Damascus took place.

An attack on Iranian pilgrims in Saida Zeinab would be yet more embarrassing for Syria because it would indicate its inability to protect the citizens of its closest regional ally from sectarian attack on its soil.

Third, a bombing of this kind would constitute an assault on Shi'ite Islam. It would bear the hallmarks of the sectarian attacks on Shi'ite targets which characterized the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. The Saida Zeinab shrine is a place of pilgrimage for Shi'ite Muslims everywhere. Saida Zeinab, a granddaughter of Mohammed, is venerated by Shi'ite Muslims as a heroine of the seminal battle of Karbala.

Hence, a bomb near the site of the Saida Zeinab shrine would be an expression of Sunni contempt for the symbols held dear by Shi'ite Islam - and for the Shi'ite practice of venerating individuals associated with the early years of the faith.

Now, assuming that a mysteriously potent puncture might not have caused the carnage at Saida Zeinab, what manner of organization could have been responsible? It is impossible to know for sure, of course, but the signs would suggest a Sunni jihadi grouping of some kind.

Syria's relations with Sunni Islamists are complex. Damascus has offered support and safe passage to Sunni jihadis on their way to fight in Iraq. Yet the regime itself - non-Sunni, aligned with Shi'a Iran, and with a record of brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood - is also a natural target of opposition for devout Sunni Islamists.

The world of extreme Sunni Islamism is notoriously murky and riven, with many groups operated and/or supplied by governments for their own aims. It can only be a matter for speculation and theorizing (of which there will be much) as to who might have had an interest in striking a blow at Iran, its religion and its allies in the heart of a regional capital. But the latest events in Damascus offer further potent proof to Iran and Syria that support for terrorism is a two-way street.

Wow, great analysis, almost like a proposal, hmm?

If the world of extreme Sunni Islamism wasn't so damn murky, with shadowy groups operating for their own aims, then we wouldn't have to be content with speculating and theorizing about who has an interest in striking a blow at Iran and humiliating Syria.