Monday, September 17, 2007

Hit 'Em Where it Hurts

Israelis ‘blew apart Syrian nuclear cache’
Secret raid on Korean shipment

Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv, Sarah Baxter in Washington and Michael Sheridan
September 16, 2007
From The Sunday Times

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.

Ten days after the jets reached home, their mission was the focus of intense speculation this weekend amid claims that Israel believed it had destroyed a cache of nuclear materials from North Korea.

The Israeli government was not saying. [...] The Syrians were also keeping mum. “I cannot reveal the details,” said Farouk al-Sharaa, the vice-president. “All I can say is [that we are as incompetent as we are belligerent.]” The official story that the target comprised weapons destined for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group, appeared to be crumbling in the face of widespread scepticism.

Andrew Semmel, a senior US State Department official, said Syria might have obtained nuclear equipment from “secret suppliers”, and added that there were a “number of foreign technicians” in the country.

Asked if they could be North Korean, he replied: “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that.” He said a network run by AQ Khan, the disgraced creator of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, could be involved.

But why would nuclear material be in Syria? Known to have chemical weapons, was it seeking to bolster its arsenal with something even more deadly?

Alternatively, could it be hiding equipment for North Korea, enabling Kim Jong-il to pretend to be giving up his nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid? Or was the material bound for Iran, as some authorities in America suggest?

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. [...]

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. [...]

According to Israeli sources, American air force codes were given to the Israeli air force attaché in Washington to ensure Israel’s F15Is would not mistakenly attack their US counterparts. [...]

Washington was rife with speculation last week about the precise nature of the operation. One source said the air strikes were a diversion for a daring Israeli commando raid, in which nuclear materials were intercepted en route to Iran and hauled to Israel. Others claimed they were destroyed in the attack.

There is no doubt, however, that North Korea is accused of nuclear cooperation with Syria, helped by AQ Khan’s network. John Bolton, who was undersecretary for arms control at the State Department, told the United Nations in 2004 the Pakistani nuclear scientist had “several other” customers besides Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Some of his evidence came from the CIA, which had reported to Congress that it viewed “Syrian nuclear intentions with growing concern”. [...]

On August 14, Rim Kyong Man, the North Korean foreign trade minister, was in Syria to sign a protocol on “cooperation in trade and science and technology”. No details were released, but it caught Israel’s attention.

Syria possesses between 60 and 120 Scud-C missiles, which it has bought from North Korea over the past 15 years. Diplomats believe North Korean engineers have been working on extending their 300-mile range. [...]

As a bonus, the Israelis proved they could penetrate the Syrian air defence system, which is stronger than the one protecting Iranian nuclear sites...
[Emphasis added]


Blogger Duck said...

The scary part of all this is that nuclear materials made it from North Korea to Syria. Shouldn't we be intercepting this traffic? What are we going to do with NK now? Time to take them out.

September 17, 2007 9:04 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Shouldn't we be intercepting this traffic?

I'm sure that the Israelis shared this intell with the U.S.
Apparently we decided to let them handle it.

September 17, 2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

But it should have never made it that far. We need to blockade NK.

I can't believe that the press is focusing on the Israeli airstrike and not the fact that somehow nuclear materials were successfully exported from NK to Syria. That is a major international security scandal.

September 17, 2007 10:33 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Duck, are you sure you're living on the same planet as the rest of us? Of course Old Media isn't covering that aspect, because it might cause people to ask the same question you're asking. Then it might become necessary to act unilaterally or impose American will on another sovereign and morally superior (because it's not imperialist like the USA) nation.

September 17, 2007 11:28 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

But SH, the OM should be using this to club President Bush's foreign policy and handling of the War on Terror, and they would be right to do so. You forget that they believe this could have been prevented if we had isolated Israel and unilaterally negotiated and caved into the North Koreans, just like Jimmah would have done.

September 17, 2007 12:39 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Too close to the election of a Democratic President in 2008. The blow back from people asking your question would be much worse than the Bush bashing that could be done. Bush might well double down on them and leave something serious for the next President.

September 17, 2007 1:18 PM  

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