“Reuters Missile Attack” Update

Yesterday, we posted on the alleged Israeli missile attack on a Reuters “armored vehicle” in Gaza. If you haven’t already read it, you should start by reading that post and looking at the photographs; this is an update.

As I said yesterday, the photographs that have been published of the Reuters vehicle do not seem to correspond to the attack described in news reports. That’s a layman’s view, but several readers with expertise in military ordnance have expressed the same opinion. This photo shows the roof of the vehicle that, according to the original accounts, was hit by two Israeli missiles. (Later news reports have said “one or two” missiles, presumably because there is no mark on the vehicle that could possibly represent a second missile.)

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International news media are reporting the Israeli attack on the press vehicle as a fact. See, for example, this BBC story: “Israeli rocket hits Reuters car”:

An Israeli air strike on a car in Gaza City during a security operation has injured a Reuters news agency cameraman and a local journalist. At least one rocket hit the car as the cameraman was filming, knocking him unconscious, while the second man received serious leg wounds.

The Reuters car was clearly marked all over as a media vehicle.

The Israeli army said the car had not been identified as press and expressed regret that journalists had been hurt.

Just in case anyone missed the point, the BBC repeats it:

[An IDF spokeswoman said:] “This car was not identified by the army as a press vehicle. If journalists were hurt, we regret it.”

The Reuters armoured car was clearly labelled as a media vehicle, with signs on all sides, including the roof.

According to the Associated Press, the white sports utility vehicle was emblazoned with the Reuters logo and had “TV” and “Press” written on it in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

So the Israelis are liars, evidently. But the BBC never mentions that the incident took place in the middle of the night, so it is entirely likely that any markings on the vehicle would not have been visible.

The BBC describes the damage to the interior of the vehicle:

The front seats of the car were covered in blood, much of the inside of the vehicle was torn by shrapnel and one of the bullet-proof windows was completely destroyed, the agency says.

Here is the best picture I’ve seen of the interior of the vehicle:

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I have a hard time correlating that description with the photo of the vehicle’s interior. The inside of the vehicle looks like an old, junked van, just like the outside.

We did hear from one reader, who sounds like he may know what he’s talking about and thinks Reuters’s claim is plausible. Jim C. writes:

I was reading the article “Reuters Alleges Israeli Air Strike” and I have to disagree with Mike Weatherford. I retired last year after 24 years in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). I have years of experience with post blast investigations.The first photo of the Land Rover clearly shows evidence of an explosion. Looks to me like a hit from a 2.75″ HE rocket. The reason you don’t see a “normal” entry hole is the warhead detonated after glancing off the truck. Many of the fuzes used have a graze sensitive feature, so that even if you don’t get a good impact the secondary detonation train fires. The metal failed along the lines of least resistance. The pattern of damage is consistent with an explosion not in contact with the vehicle.

As for the rust in the next photo, I was a steel worker before I enlisted. High tensile strength steel easily flash rusts once the protective coating is removed.

I have no comment about the blood photos.

The last photo I believe Mike Weatherford is correct in his interpretation.

Valuable input. I’m still skeptical, however. The photos, taken as a whole, don’t look to me like this vehicle was hit by a missile (or two) and suffered the damage described in news reports. As for the “flash rust,” could this really happen in a matter of hours? In Gaza, in August, with no rain? As a non-metallurgist, I say No.

Another reader, Ted Carlson, joins the skeptical majority:

I spent twenty years in both military and civilian bomb disposal. The damage to the ambulance pictured in the article was NOT caused by any missile. Any missile that the Israelis have would completely destroy a vehicle like that ambulance. That hole in the roof looks like a couple of well placed hits with an axe.

A couple of readers have pointed out that Israel hasn’t denied hitting the Reuters vehicle. That’s true. But the IDF has a history of apologizing for alleged attacks that later turned out to be bogus. More important, Israel’s admission that it fired at a vehicle that appeared to be involved in terrorist activity proves nothing at all. Israeli pilots can say that they fired at a vehicle, but they cannot say that the vehicle they fired at was the Reuters press van that is now being displayed by the Palestinians. Thus, Israeli newspapers have appropriately characterized the Reuters claim as a report by “Palestinian officials and residents.”

As I said yesterday, I have no special expertise to evaluate claims of explosive damage. But the photographs of the Reuters vehicle that was allegedly bombed raise obvious questions about whether Reuters’s claims are true. Almost all of our readers who have relevant experience have expressed great skepticism. So I draw two conclusions: 1) It is inappropriate for the world’s press to report the Palestinians’ claims as fact, when they are actually unproven allegations. 2) I hope the Israeli authorities will investigate this incident aggressively and determine the accuracy of Reuters’s claims.

An important point lurks here: if the purported attack on a Reuters press van was a fraud–if, in fact, the Israelis fired on a terrorist vehicle, as they believed, and the Reuters van was dragged off a junk lot for propaganda purposes–then Reuters has crossed the line from being the dupe of a hoax–we know that’s happened–to being the perpetrator of a hoax. It is worth some effort to find out whether that is the case.

UPDATE: More here.

FURTHER UPDATE: More here.

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