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.
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.
Follow-up also London Times:
Israeli commandos from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit â€“ almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms â€“ made their way stealthily towards a secret military compound near Dayr az-Zawr in northern Syria. They were looking for proof that Syria and North Korea were collaborating on a nuclear programme.
Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources. President George W Bush was told during the summer that Israeli intelligence suggested North Korean personnel and nuclear-related material were at the Syrian site.
A report says North Korea has trained Syrian missile engineers and the Arab nation has bartered farm products and computers for missiles from the Stalinist state.
The two countries have recently strengthened missile cooperation, with Syrian engineers staying in Pyongyang to acquire technology, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.
The barter system began in 1995 due to Syria’s worsening financial woes.
Syria has shipped cotton, food and computers to North Korea in return for buying short-range missiles, the report said.