Finally, media sources are beginning to report more conclusively, though speculatively, on what happened last Thursday when Israeli planes bombed Syria. The Times of London and New York Times report that Israel bombed a secret Syrian facility that involved nuclear weapons development. They also speculate that the technology came from North Korea.
The Times of London’s story begins cinematically with a “you are there” perspective:
IT was just after midnight when the 69th Squadron of Israeli F15Is crossed the Syrian coast-line. On the ground, Syria’s formidable air defences went dead. An audacious raid on a Syrian target 50 miles from the Iraqi border was under way.
At a rendezvous point on the ground, a Shaldag air force commando team was waiting to direct their laser beams at the target for the approaching jets. The team had arrived a day earlier, taking up position near a large underground depot. Soon the bunkers were in flames.
The same story continues, making clear it contains authoritative Israeli sourcing without really revealing its sources:
According to Israeli sources, preparations for the attack had been going on since late spring, when Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, presented Olmert with evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear device from North Korea.
The Israeli spy chief apparently feared such a device could eventually be installed on North-Korean-made Scud-C missiles.
“This was supposed to be a devastating Syrian surprise for Israel,” said an Israeli source. “We’ve known for a long time that Syria has deadly chemical warheads on its Scuds, but Israel can’t live with a nuclear warhead.”
An expert on the Middle East, who has spoken to Israeli participants in the raid, told yesterday’s Washington Post that the timing of the raid on September 6 appeared to be linked to the arrival three days earlier of a ship carrying North Korean material labelled as cement but suspected of concealing nuclear equipment.
The target was identified as a northern Syrian facility that purported to be an agricultural research centre on the Euphrates river. Israel had been monitoring it for some time, concerned that it was being used to extract uranium from phosphates.
According to an Israeli air force source, the Israeli satellite Ofek 7, launched in June, was diverted from Iran to Syria. It sent out high-quality images of a northeastern area every 90 minutes, making it easy for air force specialists to spot the facility.
Early in the summer Ehud Barak, the defence minister, had given the order to double Israeli forces on its Golan Heights border with Syria in anticipation of possible retaliation by Damascus in the event of air strikes.
Sergei Kirpichenko, the Russian ambassador to Syria, warned President Bashar al-Assad last month that Israel was planning an attack, but suggested the target was the Golan Heights.
The only doubting passage in the entire article is this:
But North Korea is at a sensitive stage of negotiations to end its nuclear programme in exchange for security guarantees and aid, leading some diplomats to cast doubt on the likelihood that Kim would cross America’s “red line” forbidding the proliferation of nuclear materials.
Considering Israel’s and the U.S.’ previous duplicitous statements about Iraqi WMD and Iranian nuclear capabilities, it’s worth emphasizing the above passage. None of this reporting is in any way authoritative or authenticated. It could just be smoke and mirrors of the type we’ve unfortunately seen before. It is worth noting Moon of Alabama’s post along this line of thought, Building of a Nuclear Syria Meme.
The NY Times report echoed the one above with much less specificity and no Israeli sources, though it placed the doubting passage much higher in the text giving it more prominence. It quoted a State Department official lending credence to the charge North Korea might be cooperating with Syria in a covert nuclear program:
Andrew Semmel, a top official on countering the spread of nuclear weapons, said that Syria may have a number of “secret suppliers” for a covert nuclear program, and that North Korean technicians were currently operating inside Syria…
Mr. Semmel did not specify whether the technicians in Syria were specialists in nuclear technology; North Korea has long supplied Syria with missile technology. Some weapons experts said they were skeptical that Syria was in league with North Korea to build a secret program.
Damascus is not thought to have made serious efforts in the past to develop nuclear weapons, and those experts said it was unlikely that the Syrians could afford such a program or had the technical expertise to sustain it.
While these reports of North Korean transfer of nuclear technology are alarming, it is important to remember that U.S. and Israeli intelligence reports aren’t exactly the most reliable in many instances. Israel claims Iran is within a year of developing a nuclear weapon while our own CIA doesn’t come anywhere near that estimate. Regarding dubious U.S. intelligence–does Iraqi WMD ring a bell? So these reports, almost all vaguely sourced, can’t be given great credence until something more verifiable comes along. In fact, given the Iraqi WMD fiasco, I think the reports deserve to be strongly doubted. Our attitude should be: “Trick me once shame on you. Trick me twice shame on me.”