Two US congressmen, who say they were the only members of the House in whom the Bush administration confided the secrets of Israel’s Sept. 6 air attack over Syria – after binding them to confidentiality – nurse a serious gripe, which is outlined in an open letter to The Wall Street Journal of Oct. 20.
They are Peter Hokstra, member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – both Republicans.
While sticking to their pledge of secrecy, the two lawmakers’ words indicate that Israel’s target was a Syrian-North Korean-Iranian nuclear installation under construction – and possibly shared with other rogue nations – for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction based on plutonium.
They state in their open letter: “We are concerned that, although the Bush administration refuses to discuss the Israeli air strike with the American people or with the majority of Congress, it has not hesitated to give information on background to the press to shape this story to its liking.
New York Times writer David Sanger authored and coauthored articles on Oct. 14 and 15 that appeared to reflect extensive input from senior policy makers. Washington Post writer Glenn Kessler coauthored an article on Sept. 21 that also cited information from the administration. We believe this is unacceptable.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington interject here that the Bush administration and Israel are indeed pursuing the strategy of propagating a false picture of the episode by spreading misleading data. This is not out of a desire to mislead the US and world media, but a much more convoluted calculus: By feeding out cock-and-bull tidbits, they are giving Syrian president Bashar Assad a chance to deny them with complete honesty and so vindicate his credibility, especially among the very few of his political and military insiders who know the truth.
US and Israeli government circles believe his credibility must be propped up if he is to weather the humiliating knock on the head administered by Israel in its Sept. 6 attack.
The Syrian reactor as back-up for North Korea and Iran
The suspicions cited in the foregoing article are therefore correct: The Bush administration and Israeli’s political and military leaders, having concluded that they could do worse than Bashar Assad in Damascus, have decided it is worth their while to help keep him in power.
The two Republican congressmen are also correct when they say:
If the Israeli air strike last month is related to covert nuclear collaboration involving Syria and either North Korea, Iran or other rogue states, this may or may not be an issue that can be easily addressed by negotiations alone. It is certain, however, that such a serious international issue will not stay secret forever.
Congress, therefore, needs to be fully briefed, not just on the details of the air strike but on how to address this matter and how, if press reports are true, rogue states will be held accountable for what could amount to a very serious case of WMD proliferation.
The two Republican lawmakers suggest that the Syrian reactor was manufactured by the same party as the plutonium-producing model in Yonhboyn, which North Korea is committed by its accords with the US to dismantle in the coming weeks, albeit not its stockpile of weapons, whose number is estimated at between 6 and 8 nuclear bombs.
What Congressmen Ros-Lehtinen and Hokstra are saying in effect is this: The Syrian reactor is meant to provide backup for North Korea’s use after its own program has been taken apart, and also for Iran, insofar as its nuclear program is severely disabled in a military attack.
It also transpires that the Israeli strike served two goals:
Israel‘s goal was to demolish the reactor before it was finished in order to keep atomic weapons out of Syrian hands and deny Iran a back-up facility for its own project.
America‘s goal was to send Pyongyang a warning: Now that the US has proofs of his nuclear involvement in Syria, Kim Jong Il would be wise not to slip to Iran or deposit with Syria, or any other Iranian trustee, any of its stocked weapons.
If he did, it would be blasted to extinction in the same way as Israel destroyed the nascent Syrian reactor.
But there is one secret which the Bush administration withheld from the two lawmakers, even after their pledge of secrecy.
Assad’s charmed life
The Syrian-North Korean-Iranian site was located in the general vicinity of the hiding-place where the Syrian engineering corps buried Saddam Hussein’s WMD four years ago after they were spirited out of Iraq.
The Syrian Desert is one of the most desolate and arid places in the Middle East.
It was chosen now, as in late 2002, for a proscribed nuclear purpose, because habitation is so sparse that scarcely a trail is to be found across the region.
The only people who have taken an interest in this bleak place are Israeli intelligence watchers.
In December 2002 and early 2003, they observed Syrian engineering corps units moving around the desert with heavy earthmoving equipment and drawing dirt tracks. They then dug deep pits and lined them with concrete.
At the time, Israeli intelligence suspected the Syrians were taking the first steps for building an atomic reactor. But on Jan. 10, 2003, two months before the US invasion of Iraq, trucks and tankers filled the pits with components of Iraq’s WMD systems.
Their location was conveyed to the Bush administration at the time with maps and coordinates.
And no one to this day has the answer to the puzzling question of why President George W. Bush never sent in special forces to expose the contents of the pits. It may be that parts of the administration were skeptical of the information brought by Israel, just as some circles are today.
Even now, the Syrian president lives a charmed life, notwithstanding his murky record in helping insurgents fight American soldiers in Iraq, hatching assassination conspiracies to destabilize Lebanon, hosting the most radical and belligerent of Palestinian terrorists, colluding with Saddam Hussein in hiding his weapons of mass destruction, and planning his own deadly plutonium project.