A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Mideast UFO" Captivates Social Media; Turns Out to Be Russian Missile Test

I think it was Ronald Reagan who once reflected that one thing that would end our geopolitical rivalries would be an alien invasion. Any hopes that Middle East tensions would be relieved by the arrival of aliens has faded, however, now that it appears the great "Mideast UFO" last night was nothing but a Russian ICBM test.

I have several things I'm working on that will turn up on the blog in the coming days, but I can't think of a better way to segué into the weekend than a good UFO story. Or even a so-so UFO story.

Actually, I shouldn't be so flippant. Many people in Syria thought the regime was launching a chemical weapons attack, a reminder that even something relatively harmless (and distant) can nevertheless cause panic in a tense situation. This Storify collection on the phenomenon, put together by Andy Carvin and giving a good view of the Twitter evolution on the story, includes tweets like these:

Now to the actual sighting. Let's start with this:

Some may recall a similar "spiral UFO" from Norway in 2009 that turned out to be a failed Russian missile test. So, apparently, is this one, though Russia claims the test hit its target in Kazakhstan, and space expert James Oberg explains here that the spiral is created by a roll aimed at dumping fuel before impact, so the test may have been successful. Although supposedly the missile impacted in Kazakhstan, it was apparently high enough above the horizon to appear nearly overhead in Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, among others.

You can find reportage and more videos at The Huffington Post, Zeinobia's Egyptian Chronicles blog, Zeinobia also tweeted a particularly Egyptian angle to the UFO:
So it appears this dramatic phenomenon was another Russian missile test, but it clearly caused a ruckus in the Middle East, especially in Syria, where rumors of a chemical weapons attack alarmed a great many people. But the aliens were just Russians this time.

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