Friday, October 26, 2007

More On the Syrian Nuclear (?) Site

The above pictures, taken by commercial satellite reconnaissance companies, show the site in Syria that was reportedly attacked by Israeli air assets on 6 September. The picture on the left, taken 10 August 2007 clearly shows a large structure measuring approximately 150 meters per side. The structure is not at all visible in the picture on the right, taken 24 October. Not at all visible. Not even the rubble or traces that would be expected to be visible following an air raid.

According to the New York Times, from which the above photos come:
the images, federal and private analysts said Thursday, suggest that the Syrian authorities rushed to dismantle the facility after the strike, saying its removal could be interpreted as a tacit admission of guilt.

“It’s a magic act — here today, gone tomorrow,” said a senior intelligence official. “It doesn’t lower suspicions; it raises them. This was not the long-term decommissioning of a building, which can take a year. It was speedy. It’s incredible that they could have gone to that effort to make something go away.”

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that this week released a report on the Syrian site, said Thursday that the building’s removal was inherently suspicious.


“It’s clearly very suspicious,” said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “The Syrians were up to something that they clearly didn’t want the world to know about.”

Mr. Cirincione said the photographic evidence “tilts toward a nuclear program,” but did not prove that Damascus was building a reactor. Besides, he said, even if Syria was developing a nuclear program, it was still years away from being operational and thus not an imminent threat.

The desolate Syrian site is situated on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River some 90 miles north of the Iraqi border and seven miles north of the desert village of At Tibnah. An airfield lies nearby.

The new images, in addition to revealing the removal of the tall building, show still standing a secondary structure and what could be a pumping station on the Euphrates. Analysts suspect the pumping station was for cooling the reactor.

The building was said by analysts to have been modeled on a design used by the North Koreans, whose building is a few feet larger that the Syrian building that vanished.

Mr. Albright called the Syrian site “consistent with being a North Korean reactor design.”


The Institute for Science and International Security, Mr. Albright’s group, released a report analyzing the new DigitalGlobe image. The building, it said, had been “completely removed and the ground scraped.”

The comparison of August and October images, it said, “effectively confirms that this site was indeed the target of the Israeli raid” in September.

The report said tractors or bulldozers could be seen where the suspected reactor building once stood, as well as scrape marks on the ground. It added that the dismantling and removal of the building “at such a rapid pace dramatically complicates any inspection of the facilities.”

The report said Syria had an obligation to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency of its decision to construct any new nuclear facility. It added that weapons experts were now debating whether Syria would have violated its safeguards agreement with the agency if it started clandestine work on a nuclear reactor.

Syria signed an agreement with the agency in 1992 and is obligated, the report said, under that accord to report on its nuclear plans and developments to the Vienna agency, which is an arm of the United Nations.

“An important question,” the report said, “is whether Syria may be in violation of its agreements.”

If the atomic energy agency found Syria in violation of its responsibilities, it could refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions, as has recently occurred in the case of Iran and its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The evidence is mounting that Syria was indeed building some kind of nuclear reactor. Such a move would be incredibly destabilizing, as Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and even Egypt would all be threatened by a nuclear-armed Syria. Israel's preventive strike may have averted a regional arms race that would be to the benefit of no one.


Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Destabilization occurred when Israel armed itself with nuclear weapons. There is nothing remotely resembling "balance of power" in the region owing to this fact. Israel is therefore responsible for whatever arms race occurs in the Middle East. This is yet another illustration of "blowback" effects.

Seth Weinberger said...

Seeing as how Israel developed its nuclear program in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I find your argument hard to sustain. In fact, all the evidence points to Israel's nuclear program as creating stability in the region; it certainly led Egypt to realize Israel couldn't be defeated and that land for peace was the only viable option.

Remember, "balance of power" need not be equally distributed. It need only produce stability. Israel's policy of ambiguity concerning its nuclear arsenal was carefully crafted to produce strategic balance; and given that, until now, none of Israel's neighbors has tried to develop a nuclear weapons, it seems that the policy has worked pretty well.