15 Sep 2007

What Was the Target of Israel’s Strike on Syria?

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The Telegraph 9/12:

A US official has confirmed that Israeli warplanes carried out an air strike “deep inside” Syria, escalating tensions between the two countries.

The target of the strike last Thursday (Sept. 6) remained unclear but Israeli media reported that a shipment of Iranian arms crossing Syria for use by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon was attacked.

Syria first reported the incident on the day, saying its air defences had engaged five Israeli planes, but did not say what their target was. Israel remained uncharacteristically silent, pointedly refusing to deny that its warplanes were involved in an operation. The closest it came to acknowledging the affair happened was when it made an undertaking to Turkey to investigate how an Israeli long-range fuel tank was dropped on Turkish territory near the Syrian border.

Another theory gaining ground yesterday was that Israel was deliberately attacking the Russian-made Pantsyr air defence system recently bought by Damascus. The sale includes provision for the Pantsyr system to be shipped on to Iran and it is possible the Israeli attack was co-ordinated with America to probe the effectiveness of the system. It is believed that Iran would use the Pantsyr system to defend its nuclear facilities.

Syria has sought to keep the incident in the public arena, saying yesterday that it had complained formally to the United Nations, accusing Israel of unjustified aggression.

New York Times 9/12:

One Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea. The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria.

“The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” the official said. He said it was unclear whether the Israeli strike had produced any evidence that might validate that belief.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a military action by another government.

The link to North Korea seems to have confirmed by this response (Haaretz 9/12).

North Korea lashed out Tuesday at Israel for invading Syrian airspace last Thursday, its official news agency said.

“This is a very dangerous provocation little short of wantonly violating the sovereignty of Syria and seriously harassing the regional peace and security,” a spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea strongly denounces the above-said intrusion and extends full support and solidarity to the Syrian people in their just cause to defend the national security and the regional peace,” he added.

Solomon collects some useful links.

And Spook86 discusses several possibilities, including the rumored nuclear facilities.

Further US confirmation appeared Friday.

AP 9/14:

A senior U.S. nuclear official said Friday that North Koreans were in Syria and that Damascus may have had contacts with “secret suppliers” to obtain nuclear equipment.

Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, did not identify the suppliers, but said North Koreans were in the country and that he could not exclude that the network run by the disgraced Pakistan nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan may have been involved.

No one is currently mentioning any rumors of Syrian possession of surviving remnants of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program, despite the well-known accounts of truck convoys departing over the Syrian border at the time of the 2003 US invasion.

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