Some time in April or May of this year, Damascus went back to its nuclear projects, primarily for producing radioactive bombs.
Reporting this, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s exclusive intelligence sources have learned that president Bashar Assad took a leaf out of Iran’s nuclear book and scattered production among three or four new plants recently constructed across the country to replace the unfinished North Korean reactor at El Kibar which Israel demolished on Sept. 7, 2007. He believes the new facilities – probably extended laboratories – will be safer from detection and attack.
Upon making this discovery, Israel tipped officials in Washington. A hurried palaver produced a decision to bring Olli Heinonen, deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, into the picture.
In June, Heinonen asked Damascus for permission to lead a team of inspectors to the new sites. Washington and Jerusalem hoped that if the Syrian president knew his clandestine sites had been marked, he would be pressured into shutting them down, or risk having to face the music of world and regional opprobrium for barring them to international inspection.
This incident further fueled the rancor between Heinonen and his boss, Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA director, over the Iranian and Syrian nuclear programs.
The Finnish nuclear expert is convinced that the nuclear watchdog has evidence of a covert Iranian military nuclear program and concealed Syrian weaponization activities.
No more inspections, says ElBaradei
ElBaradei is firmly opposed to his deputy examining the suspect new facilities in Syria, whereas Heinonen just as firmly insists on inspecting them, convinced they are reusing materials taken from the rubble of the wrecked reactor at Al Kibar.
He maintains that access to these materials in the new installations would confirm what had really been going on at the building site of the destroyed reactor in northern Syria.
It was important, the Finnish nuclear scientist believed, to verify the revelations of CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden on Sept. 17:
Hayden disclosed that the destruction of the Syrian reactor – as a result of intelligence collaboration with a “foreign partner” who first identified the facility’s purpose – spoiled a project “that could have provided Syria with plutonium for nuclear weapons.”
He did not name the foreign partner, but the reference to Israel was obvious. He also said the reactor was similar to the North Korean model.
“We were able last year to spoil a big secret, a project that could have provided Syria with plutonium for nuclear weapons,” Hayden said, adding: “When pipes for a massive cooling system were laid out to the Euphrates River in the spring of 2007, there would have been little doubt this was a nuclear reactor.”
This time, Syria suspected of producing radiological bombs
On Sept. 19, Heinonen’s office bolstered his demand to inspect the new Syrian facilities by a statement leaked through “diplomatic sources” in Vienna:
” Syria has yet to reply to a request from the UN atomic watchdog to let it inspect three or four sites allegedly involved in clandestine nuclear activities. In June, Syria allowed a three-member team from the IAEA headed by Dr. Heinonen to visit Al-Kibar… But Syria has since ruled out a follow-up trip saying it had agreed to one visit only.”
The request for a follow-up visit was apparently made after the IAEA received new information, probably from western and Israeli secret services.
The leak ended by saying: “The findings of the initial visit… have still to be evaluated.”
Three days later, on Sept. 22, ElBaradei tried to scotch the talk swirling around Syria’s return to covert nuclear activities by announcing in his opening statement to the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors that the watchdog was still evaluating samples taken from an alleged nuclear site in Syria, but “so far we have no indication of any nuclear material.”
In fact, the United States and Israel never claimed that a nuclear reactor was working at El Kibar – only that one was under construction.
But ElBaradei was too late to silence the talk.
Thursday night, Sept. 25, Washington stepped into the argument between the two IAEA heads.
“Diplomatic sources” in Vienna were again recruited to disclose that Washington wanted to see in writing the complete findings of the watchdog probes at the El Kibar site.
Clearly, the Bush administration was far from satisfied with ElBaradei’s semi-brushoff before the board of governors. The IAEA director replied almost at once: The agency’s senior Syrian contact was shot dead by a sniper, he said.
Our sources report he was referring to Gen. Muhammed Suleiman who was murdered by a sniper at his villa in Latakia on Aug. 2, shortly before he was to accompany Assad on a trip to Tehran.
This was the first time the UN agency had ever cited the death by violence of one of its contacts. ElBaradei resorted to this extreme stratagem to put a stop to Washington’s questions.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that startling ramifications of Syria’s nuclear project and covert activities are yet about to unfold, more about which in the next article.