Glenn Kessler has another big piece on the mysterious Israeli raid on Syria, this time on the front page and coauthored with Robin Wright. Joseph Cirincione writes in with an update to last week's blog commentary on this story, which isn't going away:
The Syria-North Korea story continues to spiral out of control, based as far as I can see on hyperbole and speculation. Its tiny spark has been repeatedly fanned by The Washington Post into what the paper yesterday called "the boldest act of nuclear preemption" since Israel's attack on the Iraq reactor at Osirik in 1981.
But there is no Syrian reactor about to go on line generating plutonium, as there was then in Iraq. (That attack, by the way, was condemned by the world, including President Ronald Reagan, and it backfired, pushing Iraq's program underground and onto a fast track.) There is no evidence that there was anything of nuclear significance in Syria.
I have been at the IAEA's General Conference in Vienna all week. No delegation has raised this issue in the conference. The last two times there were attacks on nuclear facilities—the Israeli Osirak bombing, and the Iraqi attack on Iranian facilities during the Iran-Iraq war—the attacks brought the conference to a screeching halt. This time, nothing.
I have spoken to dozens of experts and officials here, including American officials. None has any knowledge of any significant Syrian nuclear program or can imagine what sort of North Korean exchange with Syria would have constituted a nuclear threat worthy of an airstrike.
The last time American officials raised claims of suspect activities, in 2003, IAEA inspectors went to Syria for a "transparency inspection" and were given wide latitude above and beyond the official requirements of routine inspection. The inspectors accounted for all equipment and facilities and judged it improbable that key elements of the equipment could be diverted from the stated research use without clearly impacted the use for which they were intended. The claims, trumpeted by then-Under Secretary of State John Bolton, were baseless.
This hasn't stopped Bolton, now with the full support of the Post, from crying wolf again. If the United States, Israel or any nation seriously believed there was prohibited or suspicious nuclear activity, they could have called for a special inspection. They still could. Any nuclear material—even after a bombing—would leave traces that IAEA inspectors could detect. This is precisely why we have international agencies—to provide independent, rapid verification of suspect activities. The Washington Post's encouragement for states to shoot first invites a more unstable, less secure world for all.
FP interviewed Bolton earlier this week on this story as well, and he told us, "what exactly the target is, I don't know myself." The North Koreans need to provide "very clear answers" about their alleged proliferation activities, Bolton said. But why not send the IAEA to Syria to verify that there was, in fact, nuclear material at the supposed site? That would clear up this whole mystery, no?
UPDATE: Glenn Kessler writes in—
I just want to make clear that I, as a reporter, have nothing to do with the opinions of The Washington Post editorial page. Joe's commentary seems to merge the news reporting of the Post with the editorial that appeared yesterday. He also seems to suggest the Post has been all alone on this story, when in fact my competitors at The New York Times have also broken good stories on this subject. The story today reported that Israel shared this intelligence with the United States; it pointedly noted there are many questions about this intelligence and it has not been verified. Certainly, the official silence on this story has been striking, which makes it all the more puzzling.
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