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Israeli air strike did not hit nuclear facility, intelligence officials say
Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Monday September 24, 2007


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Attack said spawned from chemical weapons disaster

Israel did not strike a nuclear weapons facility in Syria on Sept. 6, instead striking a cache of North Korean missiles, current and former intelligence officials say.

American intelligence sources familiar with key events leading up to the Israeli air raid tell RAW STORY that what the Syrians actually had were North Korean No-Dong missiles, possibly located at a site in either the city of Musalmiya in the northern part of Syria or further south around the city of Hama.

While reports have alleged the US provided intelligence to Israel or that Israel shared their intelligence with the US, sources interviewed for this article believe that neither is accurate.

By most accounts of intelligence officials, both former and current, Israel and the US both were well aware of the activities of North Korea and Syria and their attempts to chemically weaponize the No-Dong missile (above right). It therefore remains unclear why an intricate story involving evidence of a Syrian nuclear weapons program and/or enriched uranium was put out to press organizations.

The North Korean missiles -- described as "legacy" by one source and "older generation" by another -- were not nuclear arms.

Vincent Cannistraro, Director of Intelligence Programs for the National Security Council under President Ronald Reagan and Chief of Operations at the Central Intelligence Agency's Counterterrorism Center under President George H. W. Bush, said Sunday that what the Israelis hit was "absolutely not a nuclear weapons facility."

"Syria has a small nuclear research facility and has had it for several years," Cannistraro said. "It is not capable of enriching uranium to weapons capability levels. Some Israelis speculated that the Syrians had succeeded in doing just that, but according to the US intelligence experts that is simply not true."

But "Syria has a chemical weapons capability and has been trying to chemically weaponize war heads on their existing stocks of North Korean originated missiles," Cannistraro added.

Israeli government and embassy officials are not commenting on the incident.

According to intelligence sources familiar with the events leading up to the raid, an explosion on July 20 at a Syrian facility near the city of Halab, in the Northern part of Syria, caused Israel's retaliatory strike on Sept. 6.

They could not say what caused the delayed reaction.

Chemical warhead exploded at site

North Korean scientists working with Syrian military and intelligence officials attempted to load a chemical warhead onto one of the North Korean missiles, likely the No-dong 1 model, according to intelligence current and former intelligence officers interviewed for this article. The result was an explosion that killed a few of those present and, according to some official reports of the blast, as many as 50 civilians.

The SANA news agency described the blast at the time as "not the result of sabotage," but an explosion resulting from "the combustion of sensitive, highly explosive material caused by extremely high temperatures."

The No-Dong 1 missile is a redesigned SCUD-C, which the Syrians are alleged to have acquired in the mid-1990s according to some estimations, while others say perhaps as late as 2000. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the No-Dong has a potential range/payload capacity of 1,000-1,300 km/700-1,000 kg.

Cannistraro believes that these missiles were No-Dong, but did not specify which class. Others, however, named the No-Dong 1 model or described the missile in such a way as to indicate what could only be the No-Dong 1 model.

The chemical explosion is believed to have included a Sarin nerve agent and made the area around the blast dangerous even after the fire from the explosion had been extinguished. This would make reconnaissance of the area difficult for foreign intelligence officers attempting to collect samples and data after the blast.

The United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention treaty of 1993 outlawed the stockpiling of Sarin, but neither Syria nor North Korea are signatories to the treaty.

Some believe that the Office of the Vice President is continuing to battle any attempts at diplomacy made by the US State Department in an effort to ensure no alternative but a military solution to destabilize and strike Iran, using Syria's alleged nuclear weapons program and close relations with Iran as a possible pretext.

A Sept. 16 piece in the London Sunday Times alleged the attack proved Israel could penetrate Iran's air defenses.

"By its actions, Israel showed it is not interested in waiting for diplomacy to work where nuclear weapons are at stake," reporter Uzi Mahnaimi wrote. "The Israelis proved they could penetrate the Syrian air defence [sic] system, which is stronger than the one protecting Iranian nuclear sites."