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Friday, June 27, 2008

What the Syrians are trying to hide from the IAEA

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the site of the El Kibar nuclear reactor in Syria on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week. Israel destroyed the reactor in September 2007. As you may recall, Syria denied the inspectors permission to view three sites other than the El Kibar site. But apparently the inspectors took their work a little bit more seriously than their boss, Mohamed ElBaradei. In fact, I'm beginning to believe that when I post about the IAEA, I have to differentiate between the organization itself and its feckless chief. Take, for example, this report from Al-Guardian:
The IAEA team, led by Olli Heinonen of Finland, reached al-Kibar on Monday and was due to hold talks with Syrian officials before returning to Vienna today.

The IAEA put Syria on its proliferation watch-list in April after receiving intelligence photographs from the US, said to show a reactor that could have yielded plutonium. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of IAEA, condemned the Israeli raid and criticised the US for failing to share intelligence on Syria sooner. Last week ElBaradei cast doubt on his inspectors' ability to establish the nature of the site. "It is doubtful that we will find anything there now, assuming there was anything there in the first place," he said.
As we'll see, the inspection team apparently did more than just talk, but first this: On Wednesday, the British daily Al-Guardian reported that according to Israeli sources, El Kibar was actually part of the Iranian nuclear weapons development program and that Syria was acting as a subcontractor to supply Iran with nuclear fuel.
The Israeli adviser told the Guardian: "The Iranians were involved in the Syrian programme. The idea was that the Syrians produce plutonium and the Iranians get their share. Syria had no reprocessing facility for the spent fuel. It's not deduction alone that brings almost everyone to think that the link exists."

On Monday the German magazine Der Spiegel quoted "intelligence reports" as making similar claims. A Syrian government spokesman dismissed them as "nonsense". But Der Spiegel said that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, was considering withdrawing support for the Iranian nuclear programme. Tehran and Damascus have had close relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Both support Hizbullah, which fought Israel in 2006.

Amos Yadlin, head of Israel's military intelligence, told MPs last Sunday that the Syrians were "concerned" about the inspection by the IAEA and were trying to conceal their actions.
Then on Thursday, there was this intriguing report from DEBKA (yes, I know, DEBKA isn't always right, but this does sound plausible).
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the three-man International Atomic Energy Agency team which inspected the El Kibar site bombed by Israel last September, returned to Vienna Wednesday, June 25, with soil and building materials samples gathered secretly without Syrian knowledge. From the Syrians they received different samples said to have been collected at a site which they insisted was a military facility under construction.

During their four days in the country, Olli Heinonen, IAEA deputy director and leading negotiator with the Iranian authorities, and his team interviewed Syrian army officers and men presented by Damascus as having been employed at the facility. They denied it was a nuclear reactor and possessing nuclear credentials themselves. But, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, the inspectors countered with their own list of officers, scientists and technicians – not only Syrians, but also Iranians and North Koreans employed in building the facility.

The Syrian side denied this and refused the inspectors permission to interview people on their list.
It will be interesting to see what the final report says and whether ElBaradei will try to suppress any information that is adverse to his 'Syrian brothers.' But I suspect that we are just starting to learn what went on in the facility that Israel destroyed last September.


At 7:57 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Good question. Especially in view of press reports hinting an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear complex isn't that far off.


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