I wonder how Chris Hill is going to talk his way out of this one:
Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.
The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.
They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean. This raised fears that Syria might have joined North Korea and Iran in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.
Israeli special forces had been gathering intelligence for several months in Syria, according to Israeli sources. They located the nuclear material at a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in the north. [Sunday Times, London]
Not just “material,” but North Koreans, “a number” of whom were reportedly killed in the Israeli strike. The Washington Post’s latest story is consistent with this version and corroborates parts of it. According to this AFP story, President Bush saw the intel and was still unprepared to abandon Agreed Framework 2.0. With the reports steadily leaking out, it’s going to be hard to sustain the charade now. One can only imagine the ferocity of the debate behind the scenes.
The latest reports certainly add a whole new level of curiosity to reports that Syrian diplomats are in Pyongyang for high-level talks. The Council on Foreign Relations has much interesting background on how this is affecting the diplomacy, including speculation on why the latest session of six-party talks was suddenly called off. It looks like the North Koreans will have time to get their story straight.
Personally, I blame Bill Richardson.
Previous post on “Orchard” here.
Update 23 Sept 07: The Sunday Times is still reporting more details.
ISRAELI commandos from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit ““ almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms ““ made their way stealthily towards a secret military compound near Dayr az-Zawr in northern Syria. They were looking for proof that Syria and North Korea were collaborating on a nuclear programme.
Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources. President George W Bush was told during the summer that Israeli intelligence suggested North Korean personnel and nuclear-related material were at the Syrian site. [Sunday Times, London]
The further down you read the more speculative some of it sounds. Unfortunately, the quality of reporting is inversely proportional to the opacity of the governments and the secrets they keep. It seems to be in the interests of absolutely everyone — including the Bush Administration — to keep this one off Page One.
News of the secret ground raid is the latest piece of the jigsaw to emerge about the mysterious Israeli airstrike. Israel has imposed a news blackout, but has not disguised its satisfaction with the mission. The incident also reveals the extent of the cooperation between America and Israel over nuclear-related security issues in the Middle East. The attack on what Israeli defence sources now call the “North Korean project” appears to be part of a wider, secret war against the nonconventional weapons ambitions of Syria and North Korea which, along with Iran, appears to have been forging a new “axis of evil”.
The operation was personally directed by Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, who is said to have been largely preoccupied with it since taking up his post on June 18.
Digg it here.