Across the Bay

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Iran Financed Syria's Nuclear Project

From a report in the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung (English precis via AP):

A top-ranked Iranian defector told the United States that Iran was financing North Korean moves to make Syria into a nuclear weapons power, leading to the Israeli air strike that destroyed a secret reactor, a report said Thursday.
"The biggest surprise, however, was his assertion that Iran was financing a secret nuclear project of Syria and North Korea," he said. "No one in the American intelligence scene had heard anything of it. And the Israelis who were immediately informed also were completely unaware."
US Intelligence had detected North Korean ship deliveries of construction supplies to Syria that started in 2002, and American satellites spotted the construction as early as 2003, but regarded the work as nothing unusual, in part because the Syrians had banned radio and telephones from the site and handled communications solely by messengers - "medieval but effective," Ruehle said.

Intensive investigation followed by US and Israeli intelligence services until Israel sent a 12-man commando unit in two helicopters to the site in August 2007 to take photographs and soil samples, he said. "The analysis was conclusive that it was a North Korean-type reactor," a gas graphite model, Ruehle said.

Other sources have suggested that the reactor might have been large enough to make about one nuclear weapon's worth of plutonium a year.

Just before the Israeli commando raid, a North Korean ship was intercepted en route to Syria with nuclear fuel rods, underscoring the need for fast action, he said. "On the morning of Sept. 6, 2007, seven Israeli F-15 fighter bombers took off to the north. They flew along the Mediterranean coast, brushed past Turkey and pressed on into Syria. Fifty kilometers (30 miles) from their target they fired 22 rockets at the three identified objects inside the Kibar complex.

Once I read the article in the original, I'll come back and add any interesting details missing from the newswire stories.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Engagement Minus Concessions

My latest piece on the US engagement with Syria is out at NOW Lebanon this morning. It's a follow-up of sorts on my piece for Foreign Policy's website.

I had been planning on linking a number of good pieces on this subject that had come out earlier, but I haven't had the chance. But do check Emile Hokayem's piece in The National from a couple of weeks ago. Emile's piece contains what is perhaps the most insightful and important quote by a senior US official I've heard in a while: “Syria is trying to sell us the water to extinguish fires that it has lit but that we already put down.” (Readers of this blog are quite familiar with this argument and US military statements to that effect.)

There were also a couple of entries by Andrew Tabler and Reuel Marc Gerecht for a NYT symposium that are worth reading.

Tabler also wrote a Policy Watch on the need to maintain sanctions on Syria in light of the economic crisis as well as leverage in the engagement process. WINEP had two other related Policy Watches in late February by David Schenker on the US tentative engagement and Michael Singh on Syria's nuclear program scandal that you should check out. (Also, check out Schenker's piece on Syrian dissident Riad Seif in the LAT). Most recently, the Institute organized a panel on the Washington-Beirut-Damascus triangle with Tabler, John Hannah and Magnus Norell. (Update: Transcripts available here.)

You should also check out this piece by Amitai Etzioni in The National Interest on the myth that somehow a deal with Syria would affect Iran's nuclear ambitions, or that Iran would become "isolated" if Syria and Israel were ever to sign a peace deal. Syria's importance, as I and Emile Hokayem noted, is secondary at best, and what they have to offer, as I also note in my NOW piece, is snake oil, expired goods, or offering to get paid to help themselves, and not US interests.

Michael Young's piece from last week dealt with another set of pitfalls pertaining to Syria and Iran.

Finally, with regards to the Syria-Israel track, see this important interview with top Netanyahu aide, Uzi Arad: "No one in his right mind would do a deal with Syria, let alone do the concessions that Mr. Olmert alluded to, if it remained aligned with Iran. It would just bring Iran closer to us," Arad told Reuters. "It would be insane."

More to come, including a detailed commentary on Assad's latest threat-laced interview.

Monday, March 09, 2009

inFocus: Syria

The Spring 2009 issue of inFocus Quarterly features a series of articles on Syria including an essay by me briefly overviewing the Syria-Iran alliance.

More to come.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Tonight's "Sami" Award Winner

We have a doozie tonight. A well-deserved "Sami" goes to Claude Salhani for this bit of sheer brilliance:

Much of Syria's influence today lies in its alliance with Tehran. But as her advisers will no doubt tell Mrs. Clinton, the Syrian-Iranian marriage is one purely of convenience not of love. It was an alliance brought about as a result of the former U.S. administration's policy of isolating Damascus, which gave Syrian President Bashar Assad little choice.

I wonder if Mr. Salhani is familiar with the term "oxymoron." Apparently, the pull of blurting out shallow decades-old cliches, like "marriage of convenience," was too overpowering. So overwhelming, in fact, that Mr. Salhani forgot that the alliance is thirty years old. Ooops!

And it is precisely for this wonderful bit of pure comedy genius (in an op-ed packed with it from top to bottom) that Mr. Salhani is tonight's recipient of the prestigious "Sami."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Introducing "The Samis"

I was going to post links and comments on a number of good pieces on the developments with Syria, as well as my own latest piece, but that will have to wait. There are more pressing items.

I am introducing a new feature on this blog: The Sami Moubayed Awards for most hilarious comment, known worldwide as "The Samis." Although not particularly about the King of Comedy himself, we would be paying tribute to the comedic genius of the man by recognizing and highlighting absurdly hysterical comments in the vein of that classic regime comedy which Sami has come to personify. Who can forget such classics as "Syria helped release the 15 British hostages," or the all-time favorite, "When all this is done, Syria would be willing to open its arms to Abu Hussein, receiving him perhaps as a guest of honor in Damascus, the way it did with Jimmy Carter"? Moments of pure gold in comedy history, all thanks to the work of a single, inimitable regime clown.

I have a bunch ready to roll, and I will be posting them in succession. But I figured, since we're talking about clowns, where better to start than with the top regime Court Jester?

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for tonight's Sami Award winner, The Oklahoma Tishreen, for the most Samiesque of all comedy lines:

In addition to gaining greater co-operation on Iraq, Washington will also want Syria to accommodate Lebanon’s interests. This should not be an impossible task. Syria has already opened an embassy in Beirut, and the appointment of a Syrian ambassador is imminent. During the 1990s, Washington and Damascus found an agreement on Lebanon that allowed the country to rebuild its economy and repair the sectarian divisions that had all but destroyed it during two decades of civil war. Damascus has every interest in a prosperous Lebanon. The co-operation over Lebanon that marked the presidencies of George HW Bush and Bill Clinton can be resumed. Hizbollah’s refusal to be drawn into the Gaza conflict this January may indicate that it is more interested in becoming a contender in upcoming parliamentary elections and in the delicate political life of Lebanon than in fighting regional wars.