Monday, September 24, 2007

Syria-North Korea?

More details are coming out now in the international media about the Israeli airstrike in Syria three weeks ago that provides details about how the attack was carried out and further explains the Syrian and North Korean reactions to the airstrike:

Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean. This raised fears that Syria might have joined North Korea and Iran in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Israeli special forces had been gathering intelligence for several months in Syria, according to Israeli sources. They located the nuclear material at a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in the north. [Times of London]

The seizing of nuclear material by Israeli commandoes would explain the muted reaction by Syria to being bombed by Israel. The typical ploy after a bombing strike such as this is to claim a wedding party was bombed and to roll out a few corpses from the morgue for the eager international media to bash Israel with. Syria did none of this because Israel must have obtained something extremely sensitive in order to receive such a muted reaction from the Syrians and the world community at large.

What is also interesting is that the Bush Administration which has so much invested in "diplomacy" with North Korea that whatever evidence the Israelis had was enough to get the President to give his blessing for the raid:

Evidence that North Korean personnel were at the site is said to have been shared with President George W Bush over the summer. A senior American source said the administration sought proof of nuclear-related activities before giving the attack its blessing.

Diplomats in North Korea and China believe a number of North Koreans were killed in the strike, based on reports reaching Asian governments about conversations between Chinese and North Korean officials.

Syrian officials flew to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, last week, reinforcing the view that the two nations were coordinating their response.

After reading this report the probability that some kind of nuclear material was captured by the Israelis is more likely. However, lets go through the possible scenarios. Some reports have claimed Israel bombed weapons going to Hezbollah in Lebanon. If that was the case Syria would have rolled out the wedding party bombing defense plus the raid happened no where near Lebanon. Additionally this raid was conducted with the approval of Turkey since it appears the Israelis may have used Turkish airspace during the raid and there has been no protests from Turkey. Bombing an arms shipment to Hezbollah probably would not have been enough justification for the Turks to give Israel use of their airspace. Thus I think a Hezbollah arms shipment can pretty much be ruled out.

Next is that a ballistic missile program supplied by North Korea was taken out. The fact that North Korea has been supplying missiles to Syria as well as Iran and Pakistan is well known. Four years ago a North Korean ship was intercepted smuggling missiles to even Yemen. So why would the Israelis want to bomb Syria over ballistic missiles when they have been living for years with the ballistic missiles Syria already has? Plus would bombing a missile program be enough to get the Turks to give approval to use their airspace? I doubt it. Also would the Syrian reaction be so muted to bombing a ballistic missile site? Once again I doubt it.

The only other scenario I can think of besides some kind of nuclear material is that maybe some chemical and biological weapons facility is what was raided. Possibly the Israeli raid captured some of these weapons as evidence and then bombed the place afterwards. The Syrians probably wouldn’t need the North Koreans to aid them with making these weapons however the North Korean engineers might have been there to help them mount the weapons on to their missiles. If the Israelis captured chemical and biological warheads that would cause the muted reaction we have seen from the Syrians so far. Could it be possible if WMDs were captured that they could be linked to being from Saddam Hussein’s former regime in Iraq? That would definitely have the Syrians squirming.

Whatever was raided three weeks ago I think the odds are pretty good that if it wasn’t nuclear material taken as evidence then it was some kind of other WMD program that was raided instead. What is clear is that the ambiguity the US and Israel have been keeping with this story is being used to maximize negotiating leverage against Syria and North Korea. I’m sure Israel would use the leverage to get Syria to stop sending arms to Hezbollah while the US would want Syria to quit funneling foreign jihadis into Iraq. In regards to North Korea the US is going to want to maintain the illusion of "progress" with the six party talks as much as possible. Despite all the ambiguity one thing that is clear is that however this whole issue unfolds it is going to be interesting.

To echo Joshua, where is Kim Jong-Bill when you need him?

More over at the Marmot’s Hole, One Free Korea, and DPRK Forum.

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