NYT Says Syria Target Was Nuke Plant

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So the New York Times had another update on that Syria raid conducted by Israel last month. It doesnt add a whole lot to what weve already reported here, but one thing it does confirm is that the target was a fledgling nuke plant.

The issue raised by the raid seems now to be what is the threshold of preemption when it comes to nuclear facilities? The report says the Syrian plant was basically a few sheds in the desert years away from producing weapons grade material. Yet the Israelis blew the thing up and with little regional protest.

If thats the precedent, why then does Iran continue its nuclear development unabated? Why was Syrias program some how more a threat than Irans much more mature one?

From the New York Times:

Israels air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.

The description of the target addresses one of the central mysteries surrounding the Sept. 6 attack, and suggests that Israel carried out the raid to demonstrate its determination to snuff out even a nascent nuclear project in a neighboring state. The Bush administration was divided at the time about the wisdom of Israels strike, American officials said, and some senior policy makers still regard the attack as premature.

The attack on the reactor project has echoes of an Israeli raid more than a quarter century ago, in 1981, when Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq shortly before it was to have begun operating. That attack was officially condemned by the Reagan administration, though Israelis consider it among their militarys finest moments. In the weeks before the Iraq war, Bush administration officials said they believed that the attack set back Iraqs nuclear ambitions by many years.

By contrast, the facility that the Israelis struck in Syria appears to have been much further from completion, the American and foreign officials said. They said it would have been years before the Syrians could have used the reactor to produce the spent nuclear fuel that could, through a series of additional steps, be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium.

Many details remain unclear, most notably how much progress the Syrians had made in construction before the Israelis struck, the role of any assistance provided by North Korea, and whether the Syrians could make a plausible case that the reactor was intended to produce electricity. In Washington and Israel, information about the raid has been wrapped in extraordinary secrecy and restricted to just a handful of officials, while the Israeli press has been prohibited from publishing information about the attack.

The New York Times reported this week that a debate had begun within the Bush administration about whether the information secretly cited by Israel to justify its attack should be interpreted by the United States as reason to toughen its approach to Syria and North Korea. In later interviews, officials made clear that the disagreements within the administration began this summer, as a debate about whether an Israeli attack on the incomplete reactor was warranted then.

The officials did not say that the administration had ultimately opposed the Israeli strike, but that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates were particularly concerned about the ramifications of a pre-emptive strike in the absence of an urgent threat...

Even though it has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Syria would not have been obligated to declare the existence of a reactor during the early phases of construction. It would have also had the legal right to complete construction of the reactor, as long as its purpose was to generate electricity.

In his only public comment on the raid, Syrias president, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged this month that Israeli jets dropped bombs on a building that he said was related to the military but which he insisted was not used.

A senior Israeli official, while declining to speak about the specific nature of the target, said the strike was intended to re-establish the credibility of our deterrent power, signaling that Israel meant to send a message to the Syrians that even the potential for a nuclear weapons program would not be permitted. But several American officials said the strike may also have been intended by Israel as a signal to Iran and its nuclear aspirations. Neither Iran nor any Arab government except for Syria has criticized the Israeli raid, suggesting that Israel is not the only country that would be disturbed by a nuclear Syria. North Korea did issue a protest

-- Christian

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