The Times has a fascinating look at the possibility that Israel took out a Syrian nuclear facility last week. Evidence is coming to light which suggests that the Israelis bombed and destroyed a facility containing nuclear materials purchased from North Korea by the Syrian government:
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.
This story seems quite plausible. We know that Israeli jets did enter northern Syria — which is something that they wouldn’t do just for kicks. Israel has satellite reconnaissance capabilities, which makes the flight being an intelligence mission unlikely. The scattered pieces of intelligence suggest that the Israels mounted a daring raid deep into Syrian territory, defeated Syria’s significant anti-air defense networks, and made it out again without incident. The fact that the Syrians have been so slow to respond in any significant way suggests that what Israel destroyed was not something that the Syrians have any interested in advertising that they had.
It seems likely, based on available intelligence, that the connection between the arrival of a ship from North Korea in a Syrian port and the later Israeli raid is more than mere coincidence. It suggests that the North Koreans are actively proliferating nuclear materials or possibly even completed warheads. It also suggests that the US, Israel, and others are aware of this and are acting to prevent that proliferation.
There is a new nuclear arms race going on with both Iran and Syria looking to gain nuclear weapons. This raid is a sign that the US, Israel, and others are not going to let this happen. The problem is that all it takes is for one warhead to make it to its destination undetected for their to be a very real probability of a nuclear Middle East. This is a problem that will not go away, and all options — including military force — should be on the table to deal with it.