Lessons of the Syrian Reactor

(National Interest) Bruce Riedel - In April 2007 at the White House, Stephen Hadley, the U.S. national security adviser at the time, welcomed Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad, who came with a special briefing for his American host. Dagan revealed a secret nuclear reactor in the final stages of construction in the Syrian desert, developed with the help of North Korea. Knowledge of this project constituted a stunning intelligence coup for Israel. Later that year, on September 6, 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Syria's nuclear facility at Al Kibar along the Euphrates River. It was a dramatic demonstration of intelligence success - all the more so given the ongoing civil war in Syria. The world does not need to worry about a Syrian nuclear reactor under threat of capture by Islamic radicals. Israel took that concern off the table. The Israelis tentatively identified the reactor for what it was in late 2006. According to former CIA director Michael Hayden, the CIA saw the construction as suspicious but did not recognize it as a nuclear reactor until "a report from a foreign partner initially identified the structure at Al Kibar as a nuclear reactor similar to one in North Korea." The Israelis supplemented their data with soil and plant samples acquired by an IDF commando mission in August 2007. Soldiers from the IDF's elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit were covertly flown in by CH-53 helicopters to the Al Kibar region to acquire the samples. Israeli accounts also stress the role of General Mohammed Suleiman, who was in charge of the reactor's construction and security. Suleiman was Assad's chief adviser on all WMD projects and dealt extensively with the North Koreans and Iranians. Suleiman was assassinated in August 2008 at his seaside home near Tartus, Syria. The writer, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, was a career CIA officer and served on the staff of the National Security Council.

2013-04-26 00:00:00

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