At the time of Israel's bombardment of the Syrian-Iranian plutonium plant under construction in northern Syria on September 2007, 45 tons of North Korean yellowcake, enough for several nuclear bombs, was on its way to the plant, Japanese intelligence sources have revealed. It was this information, debkafile's intelligence sources add, that prompted the Israeli attack with president George W. Bush's approval.
The administration in Washington sought not merely to prevent a large consignment of weapons-grade material from reaching Syrian hands, but equally to make it clear to Pyongyang that the US meant to enforce the UN Security Council ban on its nuclear proliferation activities.
Straight after the Israeli bombardment, Syrian president Bashar Assad is said to have urgently advised the North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il to turn the uranium-laden ship around because the Americans and Israelis would likely attack it or seize its cargo if it reached the Mediterranean.
Two years later, in the summer of 2009, that same yellowcake consignment was secretly reshipped to Iran, attesting to the integral nuclear partnership between Tehran and Damascus.
So, even without 1,950 kilo- stock of enriched uranium Iran has produced at Natanz, the Islamic Republic has piled up enough material to make three or five bombs or warheads. Revelation of the North Korean delivery suggests Tehran may have more secret enriched uranium hoards, probably from black market sources, such as Central Asia.
The New York Times Sunday, Feb. 28, reported that IAEA inspectors were taken by surprise two weeks ago when Iran moved almost its entire fuel stockpile in Natanz above ground.
According to one theory, Iran was taunting the Israelis to strike first; according to another, it was escalating the confrontation with the West to extract more concessions in negotiations. But some US nuclear and intelligence experts opt for a simpler explanation: Iran has announced its intention of enriching low-grade uranium up to 20 percent purity and has now moved its stock to a new site for reprocessing.
The real question, according to debkafile's sources, is not how much banned enriched material has been observed and recorded by international inspectors, but how much is hidden in caches concealed from and undeclared to the IAEA.