Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

What Lies behind Israel's Raid on Syria?

It took more than a week before news reached the rest of the world. On September 6th, Israel launched an aerial raid on a site within Syria. This site at Dayr az-Zawr, in the north of the country, had been under surveillance for some time. Israel and Washington knew that there were North Koreans at the site, according to Andrew Semmel of the U.S. State Department. He said: "There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that." He claimed that the network set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan could be involved.


A. Q. Khan, who developed Pakistan's nuclear capability using stolen and smuggled material, admitted in February 2004 that he had sold nuclear information and technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, publicly forgave Khan for subjecting the world to another nuclear arms race. One of the fruits of Khan's greed was the detonation of a small nuclear bomb by North Korea on October 9, 2006.


Syria, in conjunction with Iran, was known to have been attempting to develop Scud missiles with a greater range than their maximum of 300 miles. A recent report from Jane's Defense Weekly claimed that in late July this year in Aleppo, a Syrian military team, accompanied by Iranian advisers, was attempting to attach a chemical warhead to a Scud when its fuel ignited. This caused a chemical explosion, containing VX, Sarin and mustard gas. VX or S-2-(diisopropylamino)ethyl O-ethyl methylphosphonothioate is a nerve agent, developed in Britain in 1952, and Sarin or O-Isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate was developed for the Nazis in 1938. Sarin has a short shelf-life, but VX lasts considerably longer, and can be made adhesive for maximum effect. Sarin, VX and mustard gas were among substances listed as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) by the U.N.'s 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.


The Scud nerve gas explosion was reported in the Syrian press as taking place on July 26th, claiming the lives of 15 Syrian military personnel and injuring 50 others, though no mention was made of the "dozens" of Iranian advisers who were also killed in the blast. North Korea had technically assisted in increasing the range of existing Scuds. With Syria actively involved in developing WMDs close to its border, with the assistance of Iran and possibly North Korea, the developments taking place at Dayr az-Zawr which appeared to involve nuclear plans were a serious cause for alarm.


Before an air strike would be approved by Washington, there had to be proof that North Korea's presence in Dayr az-Zawr was connected to nuclear materials. Three days before the raid, an Israeli commando raid by the Sayeret Matkal unit, under orders from Ehud Barak, took place. The commandos took material from the site, and this was brought back to Israel for analysis. Israeli analysts confirmed that the material came from North Korea, and the U.S. gave approval for the air strike by F151s from the 69th Squadron.


The Sayeret Matkal raid on Dayr az-Zawr, which gathered what is now presumed to be nuclear material, was a "fabrication", stated Muhsin Bilal, Syria's information minister. On Monday, in Arabic language news source al-Sharq al-Awsat, he was quoted as saying: "These reports are not true. This is a baseless fabrication like the ones that have been spread against Iraq." In addition to denying that the raids took place, he warned that Syria would respond "when the time is right."


Syria has not denied that the September 6th raid against Dayr az-Zawr took place, and a Syrian official told Reuters on Monday September 24th that: "After this raid, you can forget about peace. It is no secret that our forces have been on alert for some time, but Syria will not be the first to start a war." In what appeared to be an implicit justification for Syria's new ties with North Korea, another official said: "Arab states have not exactly rallied in our support. As for peace, the international picture could start changing late next year with a new administration in Washington." Syria has officially said that Israel had bombed an "empty area."


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov has apparently advised Syria not to retaliate against Israel other than by sending a letter of protest.


On Saturday, September 22nd, a delegation of Syrian diplomats had a meeting in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea. This delegation, led by Saaeed Eleia Dawood, a leading figure in the Ba'athist party, was met by the head of Korea's legislature, Kim Yong-nam. In this "friendly talk," the strengthening ties between Syria and North Korea were praised. It appears that Kim Jong-Il, North Korea's "Dear Leader," did not meet with the Syrian delegation.


On Monday, September 24th, a South Korean news report claimed that North Korea has denounced the U.S. for defending the Israeli air strike.Yonhap news agency quoted from North Korea's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun, which claimed: "Israeli warplanes' intrusion into the territorial airspace of Syria and bomb-dropping are an outright violation of Syria's sovereignty and a grave crime that destroys regional peace and security," and stated that the U.S. had supported this "brazen behavior."


On Tuesday, an editorial in Rodong Sinmun claimed that the U.S. has “long actively promoted and cooperated with the Israeli nuclear armament plan”. Additionally, the commentary blamed the U.S. for assisting Israel, while denying North Korea the "right" to develop nuclear technology for "peaceful" means. The editorial stated that the U.S. had "dispatched nuclear experts to Israel and transferred highly enriched uranium, the key ingredient for nuclear weapons, to them."


Reports that first appeared in Friday's Washington Post claimed that Washington and Israel had shared intelligence before the air strike of September 6th. Neither George W. Bush nor Israeli officials have agreed to talk about the events preceding the air strike. Syria has officially denied that it has received nuclear assistance from North Korea, and North Korea has denied cooperation. The missile development by North Korea on behalf of Syria has been in operation since 1995 under a "barter system." Farm products and computers are sent to North Korea, which in turn trains Syrian engineers and provides missiles, which have been "streamlined" by North Korean technicians.


The tension in the region has had its effects. On Saturday, September 22nd, a Syrian fighter jet which was being monitored disappeared from radar view, causing alarm. It later turned out that the plane had crashed on Syrian territory. On Thursday there had been another alarm in the Golan Heights, along the border with Syria. "Suspicious activity" had been reported, but this was a false alarm, caused by migrating birds. On Sunday, an abandoned Israeli car at Golan Heights again caused concern. It was feared that the vehicle's four occupants had been kidnapped (in the manner of the events in the summer of 2006 that led to conflict). The four individuals were soon located – they had gone hiking. The Golan Heights were captured by Israel in the six-day War of 1967.


The U.S. nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, will be in Beijing on Thursday this week, to attend six-nation talks, where he is expected to continue arguments for the "denuclearization" of North Korea. These talks will involve China, the U.S., Russia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea.


In July, the six nations met after North Korea had shut down five "key" nuclear facilities, as part of a deal brokered in February in which North Korea would receive financial aid. North Korea has officially promised to remove its nuclear programs. Earlier this month, nuclear experts from the U.S., China and Russia, met to discuss the disabling of the main nuclear facilities at Yongbyon which are currently "shut down." The findings of these experts will be presented to the summit on Thursday.


North Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye Gwan, warned on Tuesday that the peace talks on North Korea's "denuclearization" could fail if the six-country summit does not reach clear consensus. He was speaking as he arrived at Beijing ahead of the conference. He also denied that North Korea had provided nuclear material to Syria. He said: "That matter is fabricated by lunatics. So you can ask those lunatics to explain it."


Despite Syria's involvement, along with Iran, with North Korea scientists developing Scud missile technology to be more deadly, the U.S. administration is keen to have Syria attending peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, which will take place this fall. The U.S. also hopes that other Arab countries which have refused to have dealings with Israel, such as Saudi Arabia, will also attend. Condoleezza Rice said on Monday: "We hope that those who come are really committed to helping the Israelis and Palestinians find a way through. That means renouncing violence. Working for a peaceful solution. Coming to this meeting also brings with it certain responsibilities." 


In a sign that Israel is committed to the latest plans in the Palestinian peace process, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed on Monday that his country would not object to Syria and other Arab states attending the international summit. He additionally claimed that he believes that the tensions between Syria and Israel will subside. Spokesman Mark Regev stated: "Israel is interested in as many Arab states attending this meeting as possible, states that support peace, that support reconciliation, that oppose terrorism."


Alon Liel, an Israeli analyst, urges caution: "Syria all the time said that it has one hand extended to peace and the other one is preparing for war. Israel believes the second half, that Syria is preparing for war, and did not believe the peace option." Official invites to the conference have still not been sent out.


North Korea may claim innocence over the Dayr az-Zawr incident. But it is in a vulnerable position, which is why it agreed in February to running down its nuclear plans in exchange for assistance. The nation has been on a military footing since 1953 and the end of the Korean War. South Korea has thrived since then, while North Korea's Stalinist policies and mismanagement have led to mass starvations. In the 1990s, 3 million people are said to have starved to death during one such famine. While its people starved, the People's Democratic Republic diverted funds, given to assist famine, into its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea is still officially "at war" with the U.S.


Kim Jong-Il is reportedly severely ill, suffering complications from diabetes, and unlike his father, the "Great Leader" Kim il-Sun, in the years since 1994 when he took power, he is not able to exert much charisma to his downtrodden people. Abuses of human rights, which flourished under his predecessor, have not diminished, and the labor camps established by his father still exist. Financially, North Korea cannot support itself and is in many ways a "failed state." Last year, the Times reported last year that his regime has resorted to counterfeiting U.S. currency and exporting amphetamines to Japan and South Korea.


Despite its claims to be complying with the February deal to denuclearize, the recent incident in Syria appears to undermine the sincerity of its stated intentions. After pursuing a policy of nuclear arms development for two decades, it has produced just one nuclear bomb test. It is still a threat to South Korea, but it should not be given benefits of any doubts. The people of North Korea should not be held hostage to the whims and ambitions of a physically weak, comic-obsessed lunatic.


Syria is in some ways a greater threat to international peace, linked as it is to the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. As Jonathan Strong pointed out in Family Security Matters, Syria has been made the co-chair of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). This body, under the auspices of the U.N., has a role to prevent nuclear proliferation. It patently failed to prevent Iran from announcing on April 11, 2006, that it had produced its first batch of highly enriched uranium. Iran ignored requests by the U.N. Security Council to wind down its nuclear program, and accelerated it.


With Iran's ally Syria in a prime position within the IAEA, it appears that the foxes have been put in charge of the hen house.


The full story of what was going on at Dayr az-Zawr has not yet been revealed. But what is certain is that diplomacy must be made to work to pressure North Korea from exporting the products of its nuclear program. The alternative is too dreadful to contemplate.


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Adrian Morgan, aka Giraldus Cambrensis of Western Resistance, is UK-based writer and artist. He also writes for Spero News, Family Security Matters and He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.

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