It was one of those strange situations that popped up after a disaster recovery scenario.
Both tests indicated no issues.
Soon after I started getting reports of the course imports or (backup/restores) failing, and troubleshooting took a couple hours. There were a lot of leads on the moodle forums but this is the solution to my particular issue. I strongly recommend turning debugging on from the moodle interface, simply to get as much description on the error as possible.
Debugging revealed a cryptic message: Warning: fopen******* [function.fopen]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in ******/backuplib.php on line ***followed by a bunch of fwrite problems.
PROBLEM MESSAGE: An error occurred while backing up course start
0. Login as admin to the moodle interface.
1. Open the mysqladmin tool (this can also be done from the MYSQL Server)
2. Truncate the following tables:
TRUNCATE TABLE tablename;
3. Run a mysqlcheck with the check and repair flags just in case.
In my case, this solved the problem. The important point to note, is that the debugging may lead you in the correct direction, so DO NOT USE THIS SOLUTION if you are not certain your problem is identical!