Syria building biological and chemical weapons at destroyed al-Kibar nuclear plant?; UPDATE: ConfirmedOn September 6, 2007, Israeli jets destroyed what was alleged to be a nuclear reactor located in rural al-Kibar near the Turkish border. In what was widely believed to be a bid to cover up the site, the Syrians flattened it and then built another building on top of it. Now, according to an Israel Radio report that I heard once (and only once) on Monday morning, and an article from Yediot Aharonoth's Hebrew edition that seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth, that building may be in use to construct biological and chemical weapons to be used against Israel. Please allow me to explain.
On Thursday, President Obama surprised a lot of people by extending President Bush's sanctions against Syria for another year.
Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency, unless, prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency with respect to the actions of the Government of Syria declared in Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004, and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13399 of April 25, 2006, and Executive Order 13460 of February 13, 2008, is to continue in effect beyond May 11, 2009.Please keep the highlighted language close; I've highlighted it for a reason.
The actions of the Government of Syria in supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions to address this national emergency.
Similarly, in a statement issued by the White House, it was reported that
"The president took these actions to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the actions of the government of Syria in supporting terrorism, maintaining its then-existing occupation of Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq."The mention of Lebanon is because there are two different laws under which the President has the power to impose sanctions and one of them deals with the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. But I agree that this quote is not as conclusive as the previous one, because it cites the language of the statute and may not be specific to this renewal of sanctions. This post hangs on the first quote, which came directly from the White House web site.
The renewal of the sanctions was a surprise and a hard slap in the face to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, because it came on the same day on which Assad met with Obama envoys Jeffrey Feltman and Dan Shapiro to discuss normalization of American relations with Syria and removal of the US boycott against the Assad regime.
With President Obama's zeal to 'engage' with both the Assad and Ahmadinejad regimes, one would think that for the sanctions to be reimposed there would have to be an awfully good reason. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that it was because the Syrians have resumed their functioning as a transit point for terrorists entering Iraq.
Last October, as the Bush administration was touting a dramatic drop in the number of suicide bombings in Iraq, four young Tunisian men left their homes for Libya and then headed to Syria. There, they were met at the Damascus airport and taken to a safe house.But if that were the only reason for renewing the sanctions, Obama's White House statement (the first one cited above, which is straight from the source, as opposed to the second one I cited which is less reliable and may have just been quoting the law) would not have mentioned the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. After all, no one has accused Syria of pursuing weapons of mass destruction since that day in September of 2007 when Israel destroyed the al-Kibar plant. Or have they?
Six tedious months passed until their handlers felt that it was safe to move the men again. In April, they were smuggled across the Iraqi border; within days, two were dead, among the suicide bombers who have killed at least 370 Iraqis in a wave of attacks over the past several weeks.
The third Tunisian disappeared. The fourth was captured and, according to a senior U.S. military official, provided interrogators with this account of their travels.
His statement, combined with what other sources had previously indicated to U.S. and Iraqi intelligence, confirmed what American officials had suspected: After a long hiatus, the Syrian pipeline operated by the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq is back in business.
Recall that there were three other facilities in Syria that the IAEA wanted to inspect to which they were denied access. Could those have been the facilities to which Obama was referring? Sure. But we've known about those since at least May 2008, and if those were going to hold up a normalization of relations with Syria, they should have come up a long time ago. It's doubtful that Obama would have taken what was clearly a last-minute decision to renew sanctions based on those facilities.
And I don't buy that the terrorists transiting into Iraq through Syria were the reason that the sanctions were renewed. According to US military and intelligence officials cited by the Washington Post, they're not even sure Assad is behind that:
The Bush administration frequently criticized Syria for the transit of foreign fighters, suggesting that the authoritarian government of President Bashar al-Assad was involved in the traffic. But U.S. military and intelligence officials remained less certain.In February 2009, the Syrians let it be known that the al-Kibar facility was being used as a missile base. They didn't say what kind of missile base. But apparently the missiles being developed there will carry biological and chemical weapons. And the Obama administration may have just discovered that recently.
"What we think right now is that we just don't know how much their senior leaders know about the foreign fighter network," said the senior U.S. military official, who discussed intelligence matters last week on the condition of anonymity. "As you can imagine . . . if they knew, it's not something they would be talking about."
"But we do think that the knowledge of these networks exists at least within the Syrian intelligence community," he said. "What level, if it's low or high up, we just don't have a good gauge on."
Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress late last month that the al-Qaeda in Iraq pipeline through Syria had been "reactivated." Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, confirmed Friday that "some elements of foreign fighters continue to traffic through Syria." But officials have been careful not to directly accuse Damascus of supporting the traffic.
On Monday, Israel Radio's 5:00 am news magazine (which reads the headlines from nearly every Israeli newspaper) carried a report that said that the Syrians were building biological weapons (if they said chemical, I missed it) at al-Kibar. I have not heard the report before or since. My Hebrew is good, but at that hour of the morning, I had to take into account that maybe I didn't hear correctly. Then I got a daily news digest (which will likely no longer be on line when many of you see this, so I won't link it), which contained the following summary:
See also Biological Weapons Facility Replaces Syrian Nuclear Reactor - Orly AzulaiAs is frequently the case when this digest cites Hebrew articles there was no link. I've been all over Yediot's site (the Hebrew version of YNet) and this article has disappeared down the memory hole. I had one of my regular readers whose Hebrew is fluent try it and he couldn't find it either. It's nowhere to be found on CBS News' site either. If any of you find either story, please email me the links. I sent the story to one of the top intelligence analysts in the mainstream media, and he has not responded yet, but I wanted to get my speculation on the table before he does.
Syria has rebuilt the structure that housed the nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed and turned the place into a facility for the production of chemical and biological weapons, CBS News reported Sunday, quoting U.S. intelligence sources. The two American envoys who visited Syria last week were aware of the report and presented satellite photos to the Syrians, who denied it.
As a result, Obama decided that Syria had done nothing to justify the removal of sanctions. The revelation of Syria's plan to develop biological and chemical weapons joins a series of disagreements that has brought the Syrians and Americans to a stalemate at this point. The chief disagreement involves Israeli-Syrian negotiations: The Syrians insist that Israel must first agree to the return of the Golan Heights prior to the start of negotiations. (Yediot Ahronot-Hebrew, 11May09)
Something is going on at al-Kibar. I'd bet on biological and/or chemical weapons. President Obama would not have thrown out the reference to "weapons of mass destruction" in his sanctions renewal notice without a reason. And if he was going to hold it up because of the three mysterious facilities that the Syrians wouldn't let the IAEA inspect last June, he would not have sent Feltman and Shapiro there the same day, giving the impression that the sanctions were going to be lifted. There's something going on at al-Kibar and someone doesn't want you to know about it yet.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY 7:28 AM
David Bedein confirms my report and adds the following details (Hat Tip: Gershon D).
Syria’s relationship with Iran, arming of Hezbollah and hosting of Hamas and other terror groups greatly troubles the Obama administration.Hmmm.
As a result, Mr. Obama announced a change in his Syria policy after his two envoys returned to Washington on Sunday.
The envoys went to Syria with the new intelligence showing the site that formerly housed the nuclear reactor had been restored and had become a structure housing an expanded chemical and biological weapons program.
Syria, however, denied the existence of the new program at the facility despite being shown the satellite footage, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
After Mr. Obama consulted with his advisers, he reached the conclusion that Syria had not done anything to justify removing the sanctions.
“The concerns we had about Syria’s actions have not changed, so renewing the sanctions was the right thing to do,” a senior White House source told the Voice of Israel Radio.