The disclosure Tuesday, Nov. 1, by the International Atomic Energy Agency – that a spinning factor built in the northeastern Syrian town of Hasaka in 2003 was in fact designed for developing nuclear weapons from enriched uranium – had a purpose: It was intended to crowd Bashar Assad into talking to the leaders of the revolt against him instead of slaughtering them. debkafile's intelligence sources report that Syria procured the enriched uranium and equipment for the plant from Iraq when its ruler Saddam Hussein in early March 2003 when he decided to dispose of the bulk of his nuclear plant and weapons of mass destruction by spiriting them out to Syria, then his closest ally.
The IAEA sources revealed that the Syrian government worked on the secret Hasaka complex with Abdel Qader Khan, father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, basing it on the same technology he designed for Muammar Qaddafi's nuclear bomb project. Khan also provided Iran and North Korea with the basics for their nuclear weapons programs.
They also disclosed correspondence between Khan and a Syrian government official Muhidin Issa after Pakistan's nuclear test in 1998 requesting scientific cooperation and asking to visit Khan's laboratories.
debkafile sources add: The cotton spinning plant at Hasaka could have been used as a facility for uranium enrichment by centrifuges. Yet the IAEA inspectors who visited the site two years ago found no traces of nuclear activity there. Aerial photos accompanying this article show long, disused structures standing at a distance from the factory alongside water pools, which would not be used for cotton spinning.
This group of buildings, which look like ammo stores, would confirm the presence of a large military complex at the site which may well have served a secret uranium enrichment project run in parallel to the clandestine plutonium reactor which Israel demolished in 2007.
The timing of the nuclear watchdog's revelations points to two objectives:
1. A broad hint that the atomic agency has more information about the Hasaka site which it is holding back for now. If it reacts to the disclosure, Damascus may give away more than it intends.
2. To squeeze Bashar Assad into bowing to the opposition's demands for democratic reforms and a share in government. He was given to understand that further damaging disclosures about his illegal nuclear activities will be calibrated according to his continuing rejection of political dialogue and abuses. They will pave the way towards tougher sanctions.
Sunday, Oct. 31, the Syrian ruler threatened to "burn the Middle East" if the West intervened in Syria.
Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said firmly: "NATO has no intention [to intervene] whatsoever. I can completely rule that out."
According to the information reaching debkafile's military and intelligence sources, this negative applies to the alliance as a body, not its individual members. Turkey for example is directly involved in supporting the Syrian revolt against the Assad regime by laying on weapons and training and allowing rebel leaders to operate cross-border command centers on its soil.
Qatar, which is not a NATO member but was closely associated with the alliance operation in Libya, is a major purveyor of arms and funding for Syria's anti-regime fighters. In the operation against Muammar Qaddafi, the Qataris became expert in the management of revolts against Arab dictatorships and accustomed to working in close sync with NATO intelligence and military arms.
Whether or not NATO intervenes in Syria is no longer a question. It already has, in one way or another. The question is when will Assad decide that Western intervention has reached a level warranting delivery on his threat to burn the Middle East?