Masyaf in northwestern Syria, the hub of Syrian-Iranian missile development, has long been a regular Israeli target. Before the Syrian civil war, it housed Projects 991 (Scuds) and 111 (SAMs). Since 2014, production has been expanded to embrace the more sophisticated needs of Iran and Hizballah and now includes – or rather did include – Branch 340 (SSM/SSR R & D); Branch 702 (SSM solid propulsion fuel) run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) and Branch 350 (missile production). All these branches were flattened by the Israeli aerial strike on Masyaf on Saturday, April 13. This was Israel’s first attempt to total at one fell swoop the entire complex of the notorious “Scientific Studies and research Center” (SSRC).
It is important to note, say DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, that notwithstanding the Israel Air Force’s success in razing all its targets, Iran and Hizballah are primed for bringing back to life their major project for enhancing the lethality and accuracy of their missiles. Sometimes, it takes them no more than four to six weeks for their destroyed production machinery to start humming again with fresh teams. For three years, the Iranian and Syrian production managers have assiduously organized and concealed duplicate equipment stocks ready to step into the breach. They are continuously replenished by a vast network of straw companies whose agents, mostly Iranian but also Syrian, scour lands in East Europe and the Far East for the sensitive electronic equipment needed to keep their industry a step ahead of the US and UN sanctions imposed on Iran and Syria.
Those straw companies exist only as names and addresses, but their “overseas brokers” are flush with funds from the Syrian “Research Center’s” commercial department, for purchasing the contraband supplies in third countries. The money originates with the Iranian Guards, although this bankroll is diminishing under US sanctions.
When those brokers draw a blank, the governments step in. Iran and North Korea have a longstanding relationship for the back-door acquisition of prohibited dual-use equipment and weapons technology in defiance of international sanctions. Syria draws on close ties, which are confirmed by Western intelligence agencies, between its Organization of Technical Industries (OTI), a front company used by the Syrian “Research Center” and the Belarussian Belzneshpramservis, a state-owned weapons development and production corporation. The two state-owned entities are working together to establish an industrial plant in Syria for the manufacture and development of fiberoptic gyroscopes to advance Syrian SSMs, including the M600 SSM and Scud D-variant of the SSMs, from tactical assets to an accurate strategic capability.
The same missiles are being outfitted with the help of North Korean engineers and technology, provided by Pyongyang’s Tangun Trading Corporation, with a maneuvering re-entry vehicle (MaRV) and a global navigation satellite system. The newly upgraded Syrian Scud D variants are dubbed Scud MDs. Equipped with a “bespoke canard system,” the new Scud MD is able upon entering the atmosphere to alter its originally planned trajectory. This capability grants the upgraded missile the ability to assess problematic interceptors in its flight path in good time, while greatly improving its accuracy and its warhead’s survivability.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources reveal that the two most recent Israeli air strikes in the Aleppo region on Feb. 27 and at Masyaf on April 14, managed to total the following production plants: Branches 340 SSM and SSR R & D, which were scattered around Aleppo. But the most destruction was meted to out at the Masyuf hub to Branches 702-SSM solid-propellant production; 350-missile and rocket production; SSRC projects 991-“Scud” development; Project 794-armor; Project 111 for surface-to-air missile development; the SSRC’s aluminum powder factory and Section 4, which is responsible for ballistic missile and rocket oversight.
These cooperative enterprises, assisted by third-country collaborators, explain how Belarussian and North Korean engineers and technicians, as well as Iranian and Syrian officers, came to be killed or injured in the devastating Israel air bombardment of the Masyaf complex.