Across the Bay

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Never Say Never Again

Lying in politics is supposed to be somewhat subtle. The Syrian regime, however, as with everything they do, give even lying a bad name with their pitifully crude transparency.

Witness their pathetic little ambassador in a recent interview (with which I'll deal more fully later):

Let me be clear about it: Syria has never, ever contemplated acquiring nuclear technology. We are not contemplating it today. We are not contemplating doing this in the future – neither for military nor for civilian purposes.

Oh, really!? Never, not even a contemplation, not even for civilian purposes, eh?

Well, let's check the record.

Here's a story from July 1998:

Russia, Syria Agree on Peaceful Uses Of Nuclear Energy

By Oleg Lebedev

Moscow, July 6, 1998 (RIA Novosti) -- The text of a Russian-Syrian inter-governmental draft agreement on peaceful uses of atomic energy has been agreed on. RIA Novosti was told at the information department of the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) that during the visit to Moscow by a delegation of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission (SAEC) agreement was reached on signing the document "within the shortest time possible."

Between June 27 and July 4, the delegation led by Ibrahim Osman, SAEC general director, conducted negotiations with the Ministry of Atomic Energy, AO Atomstroiexport and the Research Institute of Power Equipment (NIKIET).

During the meetings the sides agreed on the time of the realization of a nuclear research centre project in Syria with the participation of Atomstroiexport and NIKIET. The centre will be built on the basis of a 25 Megawatt light-water basin-type reactor.

The training of Syrian specialists at the Moscow Engineering Physical Institute (MIFI) was also discussed during the delegation's stay in Russia. It was agreed that before August 1 the institute will send to the Syrian side its proposals on the training of a group "under a two-year master-course" program, with a view to further training part of the specialists at post-graduate courses.

Apart from that the Syrian delegation told its partners about Syria's requirement in radioactive sources, charged particle accelerators and the production of liquefied gases for industrial and medical uses. The Ministry of Atomic Energy notes that "Russian enterprises are ready to render assistance" in settling these problems. It was also agreed that in settling these problems AO Tekhsnabexport will act as the executive agent from the Russian Ministry.

In 2003, the MEIB had another report detailing some of the "contemplation" and attempts by Syria to sign nuclear agreements with Russia.

More can be found in Ellen Laipson's 2004 study, "Syria: Can the Myth Be Maintained Without Nukes?" in The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider their Nuclear Choices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), pp. 92-96:

In 1976 Syria established the Atomic Energy Commission in Damascus, which conducted studies relating to possible acquisition of nuclear power reactors. It also was the institution that led negotiations with France over the possible transfer of nuclear technology.16 According to current information, there is an organic link between the Atomic Energy Commission and a larger organization, called the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), an ostensibly civilian agency that is widely assumed to be linked to the military establishment and to be the locus of most new research and development on nonconventional weaponry and of missile-related technology exchanges and imports.
According to press accounts, Syria in the 1980s attempted to engage a wide range of countries in deals to acquire nuclear power reactors, presumably for energy purposes, but there is little discussion of Syria’s end goals. One report refers to a 1988 attempt to create a $3.6 billion reactor program with technical help from the Soviet Union, Belgium, and Switzerland.18Other reports refer to unrealized plans involving France, the Soviet Union, Argentina, and India. In each case, plans went awry, due to subtle political pressures exerted on prospective sellers and to Syria’s inability to provide necessary financing. Syrian officials would complain about unfair treatment as compared to Israel, which enjoyed various kinds of technical cooperation despite mounting evidence of its nuclear status. But Syrian officials were unable to offer clear explanations of the purposes of proposed reactor programs that would assuage international concerns.
Syria’s first success in acquiring a nuclear reactor was the 1991 purchase of a thirty-kilowatt neutron source minireactor from China. This class of reactor is understood to have no military application; both China and Syria went through the proper international procedures, and Syria signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The IAEA has conducted inspections at the site in Dayr al Jajar and does not appear to consider this reactor a cause for concern.19 Syria’s efforts to purchase a nuclear reactor from Argentina continued through the first half of the 1990s. Syria negotiated the purchase of a ten-megawatt reactor, which Argentina did not deliver, reportedly under pressure from the United States. By 1994 Syria was threatening to file suit against Argentina, and a year later, Argentina announced it was pulling out of the deal.

Since 1997 Syria’s most active and publicly acknowledged nuclear relationship has been with Russia, which has prompted new questions about whether Syria might have a military purpose in mind in pursuing nuclear technology. In early 1998, the two states signed an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and the next year, Russia publicly announced the decision to provide one light-water reactor to Syria, subject to IAEA safeguards. After Syrian vice president Abd al-Halim ibn Said Khaddam’s visit to Moscow in January 2003, both sides reported that military technology cooperation was a central part of the bilateral relationship.
It is important to consider that the Russian relationship may not be the sole or most important element in the nuclear equation for Syria if the regime is in the early stages of hedging its bets on a nuclear weapons program. Syria has a steady relationship with North Korea for missile technology ... Thus there are risks to focusing too much on a scenario based primarily on the Russian connection, which is relatively transparent and under IAEA guidelines, while a more clandestine relationship might more directly help Syria develop weapons options.

This leads us to this pathetic line by Mustapha:

Nothing whatsoever that Syria is doing has to do with nuclear technology for reasons that are simple for anyone to analyze: We are realists. We understand that if Syria even contemplated nuclear technology, then the gates of hell would open on us.

Actually, no need for "gates of hell," as it turned out. In fact, that's the whole point. It took a masterful surgical strike. The lesson of the strike, as Dennis Ross explained, was that Israel managed to achieve its goal without triggering a wider conflict (which obviously has other implications with regards to Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas).

Furthermore, this is the point of preemption. In the past, despite the talks with Russia over nuclear cooperation, there was no Israeli preemptive action. That's precisely why the Israeli strike this time speaks volumes. Apparently, Syria did more than "contemplate" the nuclear option, and that's why the Israelis destroyed the nascent facility. They nipped the project in the bud, embarrassed the Syrians, who were completely exposed with zero international and/or Arab sympathy (save from North Korea, who had probably supplied the technology), had no response whatsoever, neither military (even through proxies) nor diplomatic, have put out a million different and contradictory stories (including a possible mishap by their UN amb. who may have inadvertently admitted that the site was a nuclear facility), have quietly sought to disassemble the ruins of the targeted facility, and are now frantically trying to launch a laughable PR campaign of sorts through their cartoonish ambassador.

No need for the gates of hell. It was actually far less costly. The facility was destroyed and the message was very clearly sent. One thing for sure, however, is that Imad Mustapha and similar pathetic regime apparatchiks never, ever stop being entertaining.