The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Syria covers up


January 12, 2008

The saga continues…

(Updated to included the photo, from Saturday’s Washington Post)

Back in October, Israeli jets bombed a mystery site in Syria. While it was clearly a major operation, the silence by all parties was remarkable, and heightened the mystery. Some claimed it was a terrorist arms shipment, some claimed it was a nuclear site, and others thought it was a practice-run / signal for Iran. But, with everyone remaining silent, the story slowly faded away.

The NYT is reporting that recently released satellite photos show that Syria is rebuilding a structure on the suspect site.

The puzzling site in Syria that Israeli jets bombed in September became more curious Friday with the release of a satellite photograph showing new construction there that resembles the site’s former main building.

Israel’s air attack was directed against what Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged to be a partly constructed nuclear reactor. The Syrians vigorously denied the atomic claim.

Before the attack, satellite imagery showed a tall, square building there measuring about 150 feet on a side.

After the attack, the Syrians wiped the area clean, with some analysis calling the speed of the cleanup a tacit admission of guilt. The barren site is on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, 90 miles north of the Iraqi border.

The image released Friday came from a private company, DigitalGlobe, in Longmont, Colo. It shows a tall, square building under construction that appears to closely resemble the original structure, with the exception that the roof is vaulted instead of flat. The photo was taken from space on Wednesday.

Several clues emerge here. First, the NYT seems rather confident in asserting the US / Israeli analysis that it was a nuclear site. This was hotly contested back in October, but is taken for granted here.

Second, the article goes on to report that the IAEA asked to inspect the sight, again indicating that there was some nuclear suspicion to clear up. Syria refused, and the rebuilding will make it more difficult to ever figure out what was there.

My question is—what’s the back story? An airstrike this big, nuclear proliferation in a country that was, once, “next” up on the axis of evil (and borders Iraq), and nothing happens?

Note to self: in 10 years or so, submit a FOIA on this and find out what the heck was going on.

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.