Syrian opposition media named Israel as responsible for air strikes over Syria before dawn Thursday, Sept. 7 – in particular the attack which targeted the Scientific Studies Researchers Center, or Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS), at Masyaf, 38km west of Hama in central Syria.
This facility has overseen the government’s chemical warfare and missile programs since the 1970s. Casualties were reported in this attack. The reports were accompanied by photos showing high flames from an explosion, although there were no signs that it took place at the Masyaf plant.
debkafile’s military sources note that the Masyaf plant lies 70km southeast of the Russian Khmeimim air base in Latakia, which also houses advanced S-400 air defense missiles.
There was no official word on the attack until later Thursday, when the Syrian government charged that a military position near Masyef was struck by Israeli warplanes and missiles and two of its soldiers were killed.
On Aug. 24, the German Algemeiner cited a confidential UN report confirming that two North Korean shipments were intercepted in the past six months on their way to Syria, with reason to believe that their cargo was part of a Korea Mining Developing Trading Corp. (KOMID) contract with Syria. KOMID is Pyongyang’s primary exporter of prohibited chemical, missile engines and conventional arms. It was blacklisted by the UN Security Council in 2009 along with its two representatives in Syria.
The UN report, according to the German newspaper, did not name the two nations which intercepted the North Korean shipments or specify their contents. According to other sources, North Korean engineers or technicians were employed at the Syrian CERS plant, which the UN experts had reported as cooperating with KOMID in previous transfers of prohibited items. It is not known whether they were working on a Syrian project or an outsourced North Korean program.
A major precedent was exposed exactly a decade ago by an earlier Israeli attack, which destroyed a Syrian nuclear plant built by North Korea on Sept. 7, 2007. That plant, hit while still under destruction, was destined to produce plutonium for the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran.
If it is confirmed that the target of the latest air strike was the Syrian research center at Masyaf, which was the recipient of the North Korean shipments, Israel would automatically be suspected of a repeat operation. However, the United States would also have a strong interest in conducting a strike.
After the US Tomahawk attack on the Syrian Sharyat air base on April 7, punishment for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons that killed 90 people in Idlib, US President Donald Trump vowed that never again would Syria be permitted to wage chemical warfare against its citizens. The US has directly accused the CERS facility of helping to develop the sarin gas used in that attack.
debkafile's analysts suggest that since the confidential UN report strongly indicates that Syria and North Korea have long collaborated in the development of chemical and other prohibited weapons of mass destruction, the Trump administration would have more than one justification for going after the Syrian CERS facility. Indeed, with all eyes on the highly inflammable tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, the US would have found it more convenient to get at Kim Jong-un through his back-door partner, rather than going for a direct military attack.