What Would Transfer of Nuclear Materials Between North Korea and Syria Mean?

When drawing conclusions about future behavior and events I try to reason from facts and observed past behavior rather than from first principles or from imputed motives. Consequently, reports emerged about the raid by the Israelis on what was conjectured to be a nuclear development facility of some sort in Syria I didn’t take too much notice it, because we didn’t really have a great deal of information. I tended to side with those who speculated that the Israelis had struck a cache of missiles and missile parts. I was somewhat concerned at the time that the naysayers were reasoning from principles rather than evidence. Now we have a little more evidence:

Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean. This raised fears that Syria might have joined North Korea and Iran in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Israeli special forces had been gathering intelligence for several months in Syria, according to Israeli sources. They located the nuclear material at a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in the north.

Evidence that North Korean personnel were at the site is said to have been shared with President George W Bush over the summer. A senior American source said the administration sought proof of nuclear-related activities before giving the attack its blessing.

I think there’s still some room for skepticism over the nature of the site the Israelis raided. But the room is narrowing. For example, what is meant by “nuclear material”? That could cover a lot of territory, everything from fissible material to radioactive scrap. And then there’s the larger question:

“If it is proved that Kim Jong-il sold fissile material to Syria in breach of every red line the Americans have drawn for him, what does that mean?” asked one official. The results of tests on whatever the Israelis may have seized from the Syrian site could therefore be of enormous significance.

For details on the nature and history of Syria’s various weapons programs I recommend the Nuclear Threat Initiative.


Prudent commentary on the matter from The Duck of Minerva:

How solid this is, who knows…. But, it appears more credible than former Bush Administration officials with an ax to grind. It also suggests that this is not a neo-con fantasy story to drive policy or launch a war. Rather, its indicative of a very very serious problem–not just for the US, but for Asia, the Middle East, and any other countries concerned about Nuclear Proliferation.

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