US, Israel refuse to cooperate with inquest into Syria strike
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UN nuclear watchdog has no evidence Syria had nuclear facility
The International Atomic Energy Agency - the United Nations nuclear watchdog - has not been able to conduct an investigation into the events surrounding the Sept. 6 Israeli bombing of a Syrian military installation because neither the Bush administration nor Israel are cooperating.
A diplomatic source close to the Vienna based IAEA told Raw Story that both the United States and Israel have been approached by the organization requesting supporting evidence of a nuclear reactor which media sources have cited, based on anonymous sources in both governments, as the reason for the Israeli strike.
The source also explained that the satellite footage, which the IAEA obtained through commercial channels for lack of any “credible evidence,” does not show a nuclear reactor in the early construction phase.
Another source, close to the IAEA, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic, told RAW STORY last week that based on satellite imagery, evidence that "it was nuclear related is shaky" and pointed out that even basic security for such a facility - such as "security fences" - is missing.
Some IAEA experts have privately opined that the facility - located between the cities of Hama and Dayr az-Zawr in the Northeastern part of Syria - may have been "no more than a workshop for the pumice mining industry along the banks of the Euphrates."
Both individuals independently confirmed that the IAEA cannot conduct a formal investigation without the cooperation of either Israel or the United States, although both confirmed that the Syrian government is cooperating.
An IAEA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Little is known about the attack
Little has been publicly revealed about the attack, which neither the US nor Israel has discussed. Israel did confirm in October that the bombing had taken place.
According to a report in the Guardian on Sept. 16, "Was Israeli raid a dry run for an attack on Iran?" the Israeli air raid was substantial and was code-named Operation Orchard.
"Far from being a minor incursion, the Israeli overflight of Syrian airspace through its ally, Turkey, was a far more major affair involving as many as eight aircraft, including Israel's most ultra-modern F-15s and F-16s equipped with Maverick missiles and 500lb bombs," the paper alleged. "Flying among the Israeli fighters at great height… was an ELINT - an electronic intelligence gathering aircraft."
Although the mystery surrounding exactly what Israel hit in Syria continues, US intelligence sources have told RAW STORY it was not a nuclear armaments site. In late September, 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 - told Raw Story that what the Israelis hit was "absolutely not a nuclear weapons facility."
According to another intelligence official, US intelligence "found no radiation signatures after the bombing, so there was no uranium or plutonium present."
"We don't have any independent intelligence that it was a nuclear facility - only the assertions by the Israelis and some ambiguous satellite photography from them that shows a building, which the Syrians admitted was a military facility," the source added.
The diplomat close to the IAEA also confirmed the lack of radiation signatures, but explained that a reactor still under construction would not yet be fully loaded with the necessary materials and would not therefore give off any radiation. The diplomat, however, again pointed to the satellite images, which do not show a nuclear reactor under construction in any case, explaining certain geometric configurations are necessary for such a facility, including certain height indicators as well as the lack of security such as armed guards.
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said he doesn't believe claims that the site contained nuclear weapons.
"I've heard so many versions of this story that I despair of ever knowing the real story," Wilkerson said in response to an email query. "However, I do not believe that the real story, if it is ever known, will have anything at all to do with nuclear weapons. In short, I believe that [former Bush UN ambassador John] Bolton, [Bush Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot] Abrams, et al. are lying again."
Media reports diverge
Some intelligence officials have voiced strong criticism about alleged leaks to the press, which they say have distorted actual US and Israeli intelligence surrounding the strike. One US intelligence official identified the Office of the Vice President and those close to Vice President Dick Cheney by name.
"The allegations that North Korea was helping to build a nuclear reactor have not been substantiated by US intelligence," said this intelligence official, adding, "but that hasn't stopped Dick Cheney and his minions at the NSC, Elliot Abrams and Steve Hadley, from leaking the information, which appears to be misleading in the extreme."
Claims of a Syrian nuclear weapons program have gone from the strange to the bizarre.
In mid-September, the Sunday Times reported that the Israelis had been planning the operation since the spring of this year, after learning that Syria was attempting to buy a nuclear device from North Korea, and that at the time of the airstrike on Sept. 6, the Israelis had managed to blow apart a "Syrian nuclear cache."
Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told the Times that he was worried about "North Korea and Iran outsourcing their nuclear programmes."
In late September, the Times reported again that Israeli commandos had descended on the facility and obtained samples of nuclear materials.
Yet on Sept. 17, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made what appeared to be a bizarre statement, considering the level of nuclear hysteria surrounding the Syrian incident.
"We want to make peace with everyone," Olmert said. "If the conditions allow for it, we are ready to make peace with Syria without preset conditions and without ultimatums."
An October report on the ABC News website alleged that Mossad - Israeli intelligence - had either directly infiltrated the nuclear facility or turned a Syrian agent, and were thus able to acquire detailed photographs of the building, although no samples of nuclear materials were mentioned.
Also in October, the New York Times reported that a "partially constructed" nuclear reactor had been hit, although details "remain unclear," and the veracity of the intelligence, which was based entirely on satellite imagery, was also uncertain. There was no mention of spies infiltrating the facility or commandos obtaining samples of nuclear materials.
By Nov. 2, the "partially constructed" nuclear reactor had morphed into a "suspected nuclear site" bombed by the United States, not Israel, with tactical nuclear weapons. This was reported by Arabic news agency, Al Jazeera, and then picked up by the Jerusalem Post.
Some have pointed to Syria's chemical weapons program as the likely target, and alleged attempts by Syria to weaponize a chemical warhead as the likely reason for the air raid. Yet the secrecy and ever-changing stories from all three governments continue to obscure what actually occurred on September 6. Coupled with the lack of cooperation from the US and Israel with the IAEA, there is little chance the mystery will soon be unraveled. What is known, however, is that no type of nuclear reactor or nuclear facility was hit, despite the many anonymous leaks to the press.
Larisa Alexandrovna is managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security stories. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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