Israelis ‘blew apart Syrian nuclear cache’ - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 09-16-2007, 07:41 AM Thread Starter
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Israelis ‘blew apart Syrian nuclear cache’

Israelis ‘blew apart Syrian nuclear cache’

A tale of two dictatorships: The links between North Korea and Syria

Deep in a tunnel under Mount Myohang, in North Korea, its regime has preserved as a museum piece the Kalashnikov assault rifle and pistols sent as gifts from President Hafez al-Assad of Syria to Kim Il Sung in the early years of their friendship.

Today North Korea and Syria are ruled by the sons of their late 20th century dictators, men who share more than just a common fear of the United States and a fondness for authoritarian family rule.

In recent months, Kim Jong Il and Bashar Assad have quietly ordered an increase in military and technical co-operation which has caught the attention of western and Israeli intelligence.

Syria possesses the biggest missile arsenal and the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East, built up over the last two decades with arms bought from North Korea.

North Korea, which exploded a nuclear device in October last year, has become critical to Syria’s plans to enhance and upgrade its weapons.

Syria’s liquid fuelled Scud-C missiles depend on “essential foreign aid and assistance, primarily from North Korean entities,” said the CIA in a report to the US Congress in 2004.

“We are looking at Syrian nuclear intentions with growing concern,” the CIA director also confirmed to Congress.

Both North Korea and Syria are secret police states and among the hardest intelligence targets to crack.

But earlier this year, foreign diplomats who follow North Korean affairs took note of an increase in diplomatic and military visits between the two.

They received reports of Syrian passengers on flights from Beijing to Pyongyang, almost the only air route into the country. They also picked up observations of Middle Eastern businessmen from sources who watch the trains from North Korea to the industrial cities of northeast China.

Then there were clues in the official media.

On August 14, the North Korean minister of foreign trade, Rim Kyong Man, was in Syria to sign a protocol on “co-operation in trade and science and technology.” His delegation held the fifth meeting of a “joint economic committee” with its Syrian counterparts. No details were disclosed.

The conclusion among diplomats was that the deal involved North Korean ballistic missiles, maintenance for the existing Syrian arsenal and engineering expertise for building silos and bunkers against air attack.

Syria possesses between 60 and 120 Scud-C missiles which it bought from North Korea over the last 15 years.

In the 1990s it added cluster warheads for the Scud-Cs that experts believe are intended for chemical weapons.

Like North Korea, Syria has an extensive chemical weapons programme including Sarin, VX and mustard gas, according to researchers at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute in the US.

The Scud-C is strategically worrying to Israel because Syria has deployed it with one launcher for every two missiles. The normal ratio is one to 10. The conclusion: Syria’s missiles are set up for one devastating first strike.

The second cause for concern is that the Scud-C is a notoriously inaccurate weapon. It is better for scattering chemical weapons than hitting one target.

Diplomats believe North Korean engineers have worked on modifying the Scud-Cs to extend their 300 mile range. That means they can be based in the deserts of eastern Syria – the area of the September 6 Israeli strike.

More worrying for Israel were reports from diplomats in Pyongyang that Syrian and Iranian observers were present at missile test firings by the North Korean military last summer and were given valuable telemetry data.

North Korean scientists are working on a new-generation Scud-D which would extend the range of an accurate missile strike and is of intense interest to Syria.

For years, the US and Israel believed Syria was committed to a calculated strategic balance. They saw North Korean weapons sales to the Middle East as purely a source of revenue - apart from seafood, minerals and timber, North Korea is impoverished and has little else to sell.

But the political risk assessment has changed. Both dictators see their regimes under threat from the United States. Both are capable of unpredictable action and little is known about the internal pressures upon their regimes.

In 2003, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said Syria had tested chemical weapons.

In the same year the North Koreans twice privately threatened American negotiators with “transfer” of their nuclear weapons technology to other states.

The nuclear threat in Syria was long believed dormant, as Damascus appeared to rely on a chemical first-strike as an unconventional deterrent.

But in a period of détente the US and its allies concurred when China sold a 30kw nuclear reactor to Syria in 1998 under IAEA controls.

American intelligence officials believe Syria then recruited Iraqi scientists who fled after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Like other countries in the region, it is believed to have renewed its pursuit of nuclear research.

(The Iraq Survey group, however, concluded that there was no evidence that any of Saddam’s actual weapons were hidden in Syria).

With such warnings, the Israelis and Americans intensified their scrutiny of dealings between the two – and their joint missile technology ventures with Iran, another North Korean customer.

The triangular relationship between North Korea, Syria and Iran continues to perplex diplomats and intelligence analysts.

One fact is that Syria has served as a conduit for the transport to Iran of an estimated 50 mln pounds worth of missile components and technology sent by sea from North Korea to the Syrian port of Tartous, diplomats said.

Another fact is that Damascus and Tehran have set up a 125 mln pounds joint venture to build missiles in Syria with North Korean and Chinese technical help, they said.

North Korean military engineers have worked on hardened silos and tunnels for the project near the cities of Hama and Aleppo, the diplomats added.

Since the Israeli strike in eastern Syria on September 6, all sides have kept silent about the nature of the target.

North Korea is at a sensitive stage of negotiations to end its nuclear weapons programmes in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid. So diplomats think it unlikely that Kim has authorized a radical step such as selling nuclear components to Syria.

But nothing in the negotiations inhibits North Korea from aggressively pursuing its non-nuclear weapons sales abroad and from building alliances with other foes of the United States.

And two intriguing messages from the North Koreans in the aftermath of the Israeli strike were tell-tale clues to their intense interest in the action.

On September 10, four days after the raid, Kim sent a personal message of congratulations to Assad on the Syrian dictator’s 42nd birthday.

“The excellent friendly and co-operative relations between the two countries are steadily growing stronger even under the complicated international situation,” Kim said.

The next day, in a message that went largely un-noticed as the United States commemorated September 11, 2001, the North Koreans condemned the Israeli action as “illegal” and “a very dangerous provocation.”

A foreign ministry spokesman said North Korea “extends full support and solidarity to the Syrian people.”

The statement was judged important enough to become the top item issued by North Korea’s state-run news agency that day.

A tale of two dictatorships: The links between North Korea and Syria - Times Online
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 09-16-2007, 10:34 AM
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There was no strike, I think the sortie was a dry run for our eminent attack on Iran.
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