Saturday, September 22, 2007

Israeli raid on Syria fuels speculation over Damascus' WMD capability

While many news outlets have dubbed accusations of Syria working with North Korea on a nuclear project of some type a "spin job", reports continue to make their way into the mainline press about alleged Syrian nuclear activities. They are bolstered by similar stories concerning Syria's stockpile of biological and chemical agents, which one reports says Syria has tried to weaponize with the help of Iran. This is a small summary of the latest….

September 22, 2007
Israeli Raid on Syria Fuels Debate on Weapons

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 — American concerns about ties between Syria and North Korea have long focused on a partnership involving missiles and missile technology. Even many hawks within the Bush administration have expressed doubts that the Syrians have the money or technical depth to build a serious nuclear program like the one in Iran.

But the Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike inside Syria has reignited debate over whether the Syrians are trying to overcome past obstacles by starting their own small nuclear program, or by trying to buy nuclear components from an outside supplier. It is a particularly difficult question for American spy agencies, which are still smarting from the huge prewar misjudgments made about the status of Iraq’s weapons programs.

American officials are now sorting through what they say are Israel’s private claims that what their jets struck was tied to nuclear weapons development, not merely to missile production. So far, American officials have been extremely cautious about endorsing the Israeli conclusion.

Syria’s efforts to bolster its missile arsenal have been a source of worry for Israel for years, especially given Syria’s track record of arming Hezbollah fighters when they clash with Israeli troops. During the summer of 2006, Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group, fired hundreds of missiles at targets inside Israel from Lebanon, surprising Israeli officials with the sophistication of its arsenal.

And North Korean engineers are long believed to have helped Syria develop a sophisticated class of Scud missiles that have a longer range and are more accurate than earlier versions. According to, a defense research organization, North Korea has helped Syria develop the Scud-D missile, with a range of about 435 miles.

Whether Syria is actively pursuing a nuclear program has been the subject of fierce debate in Washington for several years. The dispute was at the center of the fight in 2005 over the nomination of John R. Bolton to become ambassador to the United Nations.

At the time, several intelligence officials said they had clashed in 2002 and 2003 with Mr. Bolton, then an under secretary of state, about the extent of Syria’s unconventional weapons programs. According to the officials, Mr. Bolton wanted to include information in a public speech about a Syrian nuclear program that could not be corroborated by intelligence agencies.

In recent interviews, Mr. Bolton has suggested that the Israeli strike may have partly vindicated his view.

Yet that is hard to assess, since whatever information a few senior officials in Washington and Jerusalem possess has been so restricted that two senior Asian diplomats, representing close American allies who are frequently updated on North Korea, said late this week that they had received no useful information from their American counterparts.

On Thursday, President Bush declined three times to shed any light on the Israeli strike, although he did repeat a warning to North Korea.

It is unclear to what extent the secrecy about the Israeli strike has been motivated by American doubts about the intelligence or by an effort to protect sources and classified information. But American officials are now looking at the possibility that the Syrians saw an opportunity to buy some of the basic components of a nuclear program on the cheap, perhaps because North Korea is trying to get elements of its nuclear program out of the country to meet deadlines in a precarious denuclearization agreement with Washington.

American officials are also studying at least two technology trade agreements between Syria and North Korea that were signed over the summer, trying to determine whether the arrangements may be designed for nascent nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

“One has to balance the skepticism that the Syrians can build an indigenous nuclear program with the very sobering assessment that North Korea is the world’s No. 1 proliferator and a country willing to sell whatever it possesses,” said a former senior Bush administration official who once had full access to the intelligence about both countries, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing intelligence assessments.

Though it has long sold its missile technology — to Syria, Iran, Pakistan and other customers — North Korea has never been known to export nuclear technology or material. Last Oct. 9, hours after the North tested its first nuclear device, Mr. Bush went in front of cameras in the White House to issue the North a specific warning that “the transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or nonstate entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable of the consequences of such action.”

His declaration that day had been urged for years by hard-liners in the administration who believed that the United States had never been explicit enough with North Korea. They saw their opportunity after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, ignored pressure from China, South Korea, Russia and others and conducted its test.

Even though the Israelis are whispering that there was a nuclear connection to the Sept. 6 attack, so far there has been no hard evidence that the North has ever tried to sell elements of its two nuclear programs. One of those programs, involving plutonium, is quite advanced, enough to produce six to a dozen nuclear weapons. But selling that fuel would be enormously risky, and perhaps easily detectable.

The other program, based on uranium-enrichment equipment believed to have been bought from the network created by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear engineer, is assessed to be in its very early stages, and some doubt the North Koreans ever made much progress on it at all. That program involves the construction of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the path that Iran is taking. But it is complex, expensive and hard to hide, and many experts believe it is beyond Syria’s capabilities or budget.

Syria does have one very small research reactor, which is Chinese built. But it was described in a 2004 Swedish defense research agency report as “the smallest on the world market and incapable of military applications.”

John Pike of said that, given its neighborhood, Syria might be interested in a nuclear deterrent, but that he was highly skeptical that Damascus could at this point have developed anything that would pose a significant risk to Israel.

“Any country in the region that was not at least learning what it would take to develop a nuclear program is asleep at the switch,” he said. “But the proposition that there is anything sufficiently mature to warrant bombing is difficult to believe.”

Then we have this report from Haaretz, seeming to lend credence to the above report.

Last update - 19:11 21/09/2007
Report: Syria, North Korea hold high-level talks in Pyongyang
By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

North Korea and Syria held high-level talks Friday in Pyongyang, the North's state media reported, amid suspicions that the two countries might be cooperating on a nuclear weapons program.

The talks took place between Choe Tae Bok, secretary of the Central Committee of the North's ruling Workers' Party, and Saaeed Eleia Dawood, director of the organizational department of Syria's Baath Arab Socialist Party, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

The two sides discussed ways of improving friendship and cooperation and other issues of bilateral interest, KCNA said, without elaborating.

U.S. government sources have said that Israel shared intelligence information with the Bush Administration this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, the Washington Post reported Friday.

According to the report, the sources said the White House was deeply concerned by the possibility that North Korea was assisting the nuclear ambitions of a country closely linked with Iran.

The newspaper reported that the sources said, however, that Bush opted against an immediate response due to fears it would undermine negotiations with Pyongyang aimed at securing the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program.

The sources reportedly said the United States is believed to have provided Israel with some corroboration of the original intelligence, prior to an alleged Israel Air Force strike on Syria earlier this month.

According to reports in the American and British media, the target of the alleged strike was a nuclear facility built with North Korea's assistance.

Syria has said IAF planes violated its airspace and fired missiles at targets on the ground, but both Damascus and Pyongyang have vehemently denied the reports of nuclear cooperation.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. sources said the IAF strike was carried out in the middle of the night in order to minimize potential casualties.

The report stated that the quality of the intelligence, which included satellite imagery, is uncertain, as is the extent of North Korean assistance and the seriousness of the Syrian effort.

The Washington Post said this uncertainty raises the possibility that North Korea was merely unloading items it no longer needed, adding that Syria has actively pursued chemical weapons in the past but not nuclear arms. The newspaper said that some proliferation experts are thus "skeptical of the intelligence that prompted Israel's attack."

The newspaper also quoted Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence officer at Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, as saying "There is no question it was a major raid."

"It was an extremely important target," the report quoted Riedel as saying. "It came at a time the Israelis were very concerned about war with Syria and wanted to dampen down the prospects of war. The decision was taken despite their concerns it could produce a war. That decision reflects how important this target was to Israeli military planners."

Israel has long known about Syria's interest in chemical and even biological weapons, but "if Syria decided to go beyond that, Israel would think that was a real red line," Riedel told the Washington Post.

The Washington Post, which had previously reported that the alleged air strike occurred three days after a North Korean ship docked at the Syrian port of Tartous, said Friday that the "ship's role remains obscure."

"Israeli sources have suggested it carried nuclear equipment," the paper wrote. "Others have maintained that it contained only missile parts, and some have said the ship's arrival and the attack are merely coincidental. One source suggested that Israel's attack was prompted by a fear of media leaks on the intelligence."

Ronen Solomon, who searches information in the public domain for companies, told Haaretz recently that Online databases tracking the ship had altered their records following a report in The Washington Post linking it to the reported air strike.

U.S. President George W. Bush refused to comment Thursday on reports of an IAF strike in Syria, but said he expects North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program and not allow other countries to gain its know-how on producing such technology and weapons. (For more, click here to watch TV)

"We expect them to honor their commitment to give up weapons and weapons programs," Bush said during a news conference. "To the extent that they are proliferating, we expect them to stop their proliferation."

Then we have this from the Washington Post:

Israel, U.S. Shared Data On Suspected Nuclear Site
Bush Was Told of North Korean Presence in Syria, Sources Say
By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright_Washington Post Staff Writers_Friday, September 21, 2007; A01

Israel's decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.
The Bush administration has not commented on the Israeli raid or the underlying intelligence. Although the administration was deeply troubled by Israel's assertion that North Korea was assisting the nuclear ambitions of a country closely linked with Iran, sources said, the White House opted against an immediate response because of concerns it would undermine long-running negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
Ultimately, however, the United States is believed to have provided Israel with some corroboration of the original intelligence before Israel proceeded with the raid, which hit the Syrian facility in the dead of night to minimize possible casualties, the sources said.
The target of Israel's attack was said to be in northern Syria, near the Turkish border. A Middle East expert who interviewed one of the pilots involved said they operated under such strict operational security that the airmen flying air cover for the attack aircraft did not know the details of the mission. The pilots who conducted the attack were briefed only after they were in the air, he said. Syrian authorities said there were no casualties.
U.S. sources would discuss the Israeli intelligence, which included satellite imagery, only on condition of anonymity, and many details about the North Korean-Syrian connection remain unknown. The quality of the Israeli intelligence, the extent of North Korean assistance and the seriousness of the Syrian effort are uncertain, raising the possibility that North Korea was merely unloading items it no longer needed. Syria has actively pursued chemical weapons in the past but not nuclear arms -- leaving some proliferation experts skeptical of the intelligence that prompted Israel's attack.
Syria and North Korea both denied this week that they were cooperating on a nuclear program. Bush refused to comment yesterday on the attack, but he issued a blunt warning to North Korea that "the exportation of information and/or materials" would affect negotiations under which North Korea would give up its nuclear programs in exchanges for energy aid and diplomatic recognition.
"To the extent that they are proliferating, we expect them to stop that proliferation, if they want the six-party talks to be successful," he said at a news conference, referring to negotiations that also include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
Unlike its destruction of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Israel made no announcement of the recent raid and imposed strict censorship on reporting by the Israeli media. Syria made only muted protests, and Arab leaders have remained silent. As a result, a daring and apparently successful attack to eliminate a potential nuclear threat has been shrouded in mystery.
"There is no question it was a major raid. It was an extremely important target," said Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence officer at Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. "It came at a time the Israelis were very concerned about war with Syria and wanted to dampen down the prospects of war. The decision was taken despite their concerns it could produce a war. That decision reflects how important this target was to Israeli military planners."
Israel has long known about Syria's interest in chemical and even biological weapons, but "if Syria decided to go beyond that, Israel would think that was a real red line," Riedel said.
Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and founding director of Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, said that when he was in Israel this summer he noticed "a great deal of concern in official Israeli circles about the situation in the north," in particular whether Syria's young ruler, Bashar al-Assad, "had the same sensitivity to red lines that his father had." Bashar succeeded his Hafez al-Assad as president of Syria in 2000.
The Israeli attack came just three days after a North Korean ship docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, carrying a cargo that was officially listed as cement.
The ship's role remains obscure. Israeli sources have suggested it carried nuclear equipment. Others have maintained that it contained only missile parts, and some have said the ship's arrival and the attack are merely coincidental. One source suggested that Israel's attack was prompted by a fear of media leaks on the intelligence.
The Bush administration's wariness when presented with the Israeli intelligence contrasts with its reaction in 2002, when U.S. officials believed they had caught North Korea building a clandestine nuclear program in violation of a nuclear-freeze deal arranged by the Clinton administration.
After the Bush administration's accusation, the Clinton deal collapsed and North Korea restarted a nuclear reactor, stockpiled plutonium and eventually conducted a nuclear test. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convinced Bush this year to accept a deal with North Korea to shut down the reactor, infuriating conservatives inside and outside the administration.
But for years, Bush has also warned North Korea against engaging in nuclear proliferation, specifically making that a red line that could not be crossed after North Korea tested a nuclear device last year. The Israeli intelligence therefore suggested North Korea was both undermining the agreement and crossing that line.
Conservative critics of the administration's recent diplomacy with North Korea have seized on reports of the Israeli intelligence as evidence that the White House is misguided if it thinks it can ever strike a lasting deal with Pyongyang. "However bad it might be for the six-party talks, U.S. security requires taking this sort of thing seriously," said John R. Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who was a top arms control official in Bush's first term.
But advocates of engagement have accused critics of trying to sabotage the talks. China on Monday abruptly postponed a round of six-party talks scheduled to begin this week, but U.S. officials now say the talks should start again Thursday.
Some North Korean experts said they are puzzled why, if the reports are true, Pyongyang would jeopardize the hard-won deal with the United States and the other four countries. "It does not make any sense at all in the context of the last nine months," said Charles "Jack" Pritchard, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea and now president of the Korea Economic Institute.

Then we have this story on the explosion at a military base north of Aleppo and its supposed link to WMD.

Blast at secret Syrian missile site kills dozens

James Hider in Jerusalem and Michael Evans, Defence Editor
n accidental explosion in a secret weapons facility in Syria killed dozens of Syrian and Iranian military engineers as they were attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a Scud missile, according to an authoritative military journal.

Fifteen military personnel and “dozens” of Iranian advisers died when the fuel for the missile caught fire and the weapon exploded, according to unnamed Syrian sources quoted by Jane’s Defence Weekly.

The report said that the explosion sent out a cloud of chemical and nerve gases, including the deadly VX and Sarin agents as well as mustard gas, across the facility in the northern city of Aleppo. The claims could not be verified independently by sources in London and the United States.

The official Syrian news agency, Sana, reported that 15 Syrian military personnel were killed and 50 others injured in an accident involving “very explosive products” on July 26. It made no mention of Iranian officers also being killed in the blast, which it said was not an act of sabotage.

Jane’s claimed that the engineers were trying to weaponise a Syrian-made Scud missile with a range of about 300 miles (480km) when the explosion occurred. The Syrians and Iranians are thought to have been working closely together on developing a more effective chemical warhead for the Scud ballistic missile system.

Both Syria and Iran have benefited from an advanced version of the Scud, which was designed by the North Koreans. Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, said that North Korea had managed to reduce the weight of the missile and increase the strength of the outer casing, as well as change some of the components inside. The technology was passed on to Syria and Iran, and “they put their heads together”, Mr Lennox said.

Reports of the accident coincided with widespread speculation that an audacious Israeli airstrike against another Syrian facility two weeks ago may have destroyed a nuclear shipment from North Korea.

Although Israel has maintained an uncharacteristic silence, US officials led by John Bolton, the hawkish former Ambassador to the United Nations, have hinted that North Korea might have been trying to hide nuclear materials in Syria to avoid inspection. No proof has so far been offered to support the claims, which Syria and North Korea deny and which critics say recall the whispering campaign about weapons of mass destruction that preceded the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

If the claims are true, the Israeli strike would be the most daring long-range mission launched since it destroyed the Iraqi nuclear plant being built by Saddam Hussein at Osiraq, near Baghdad, in June 1981.

Moshe Maoz, an Israeli expert on Syria, said it was possible the strike involved some kind of nuclear material. He said it would most likely have been an imported warhead, because Damascus lacks the infrastructure to develop its own nuclear programme. “Israel wouldn’t go for such a bold, daring and dangerous action without a very good reason,” he said. “My guess is that it is something to do with nuclear materials.”

General Mohammad Alavi, the deputy commander of the Iranian Air Force, said yesterday that Tehran would strike back if Israel launched any raids on its territory. “We have drawn up a plan to strike back at Israel with our bombers if this regime makes a silly mistake,” he said.

And for a complete summary of the last few days, check out this article at

06 September 2007 Airstrike
Syria said its air defences reportedly opened fire on Israeli warplanes flying over the northeast of the country in the early hours of Thursday 06 September 2007. Very few facts are known about the alleged incident. Local residents were reported to have claimed to have heard the sound of five or more planes above the Tal al-Abiad area on Syria's border with Turkey, around 160 km (100 miles) north of the Syrian city of Rakka. One Syrian official was quoted by Reuters on 07 September 2007 as saying: "They dropped bombs on an empty area while our air defenses were firing heavily at them."

The Syrian official news agency SANA stated that Israeli aircraft had "infiltrated Syrian airspace through the northern border coming from the direction of the Mediterranean and headed towards northeastern territory, breaking the sound barrier. ... The Syrian Arab Republic warns the government of the Israeli enemy and reserves the right to respond according to what it sees fit..." Syria warned that it was weighing its response to the Israeli "aggression". Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told Al-Jazeera television that his country was "giving serious consideration to its response... to this aggression ... This shows that Israel cannot give up aggression and treachery".

On 08 September 2007 Turkey asked Israel for clarification after finding two fuel tanks on its territory near the Syrian border allegedly belonging to Israeli warplanes. The jettisoned fuel tanks were discovered late on Thursday 06 September 2007 in the Turkish provinces of Hatay and Gaziantep, near the Syrian border. This came a few hours after Damascus had accused Israel of bombing its territory.

The Israeli government and military initially remained silent about the incident. The Israeli military spokesman's office said in a statement: "It is not our custom to respond to these kinds of reports." But the office typically has commented on such reports. In October 2003 Israeli warplanes bombed an empty Palestinian militant training camp in Syria. And in June 2006, Israeli warplanes flew over a palace in northern Syria while President Bashar al-Assad was inside, in what Damascus condemned as an "act of piracy". These operations were confirmed by the Israeli military. It appeared the government imposed a news blackout on the issue. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that there would be no comment beyond the military statement.

Analysts were initially divided over whether the [unconfirmed] flight was a tactic of intimidation, or a reconnaissance mission of some sort, or operation intending to test Syrian air defense systems. Other hypotheses have posited that Israel was on an intelligence-gathering mission, scouting an air corridor for a future strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

On 10 September 2007 a [background source] started pitching a story that the air strike had destroyed a uranium pilot enrichment plant that Syria had obtained from North Korea. As far as can be detected, this story did not have legs at that time and no news organization moved it. Michael Corleone [From the Godfather] observed: "it insults my intelligence -- and makes me very angry."

On 11 September 2007 a US government official confirmed [on background] that Israeli warplanes were targeting weapons from Iran and destined for Hizballah militants in Lebanon. On 12 September 2007 Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper in The New York Times reported that "Officials in Washington said that the most likely targets of the raid were weapons caches that Israel’s government believes Iran has been sending the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah through Syria. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah’s primary benefactors, and American intelligence officials say a steady flow of munitions from Iran runs through Syria and into Lebanon."

On 13 September 2007 Glenn Kessler reported in the Washington Post that " ... a former Israeli official said he had been told that it was an attack against a facility capable of making unconventional weapons."

On 15 September 2007 Glenn Kessler reported in the Washington Post that American sources said that Israel had recently provided the US with evidence -- code named "Orchard" -- that the DPRK had been cooperating with Syria on a nuclear facility. "The evidence, said to come primarily from Israel, includes dramatic satellite imagery ... The new information, particularly images received in the past 30 days, has been restricted to a few senior officials ... " According to one source for this report, the 06 September 2007 air strike appeared to have been linked to the arrival at the Syrian port of Tartus on 03 September 2007 [three days prior to the strike], of a ship carrying material ["labeled as cement"] from North Korea. According to this source, the target of the attack was a Syrian facility "agricultural research center" located "on the Euphrates River, close to the Turkish border". Israel had reportedly been monitoring the facility in the belief that Syria was "using it to extract uranium from phosphates" at that location.

"dramatic satellite imagery" - the types of activity associated with nuclear weapons development, particularly at the early stages of the program, are precisely the sorts of things that are not going to produce dramatic satellite imagery, which is why North Korea's uranium program is so vexing for the United States.
"primarily from Israel" - the reliance on such liasion sourced intelligence that could not be independently verified was one of the central problems with the Iraq WMD intelligence failure, and either evidence is "primarily from Israel" [ie, HUMINT] or it is independtly knowable by the United States based on "dramatic satellite imagery" but it is difficult to comprehend how both statements could be true.
"restricted to a few senior officials" - this part of the story is designed to explain to other reporters why their sources are unable to confirm any of the details of this report
"arrival at the Syrian port of Tartus" - this is not a large facility, and this news story would have us believe that Israeli intelligence has intimate knowledge of unloading activities at this port, a collection capability that was willingly compromised here
"labeled as cement" -- cement is normally transported as a bulk powder, and less frequently in recent decades in bags -- neither form of transport would usefully conceal nuclear related components, and labeling some other means of transport [eg, standard 40-foot containters] as cement would be so patently false as to immediately draw suspicion to the shipment.
"on the Euphrates River, close to the Turkish border" -- the implication, though not over assertion, is that over the course of three days Israeli intelligence was able to track the shipment as it travelled half-way across Syria, or that Israeli surveillance of Syria is so comprehensive that the shipment was detected upon arrival -- either of which is very impressive and hard to believe.
"using it to extract uranium from phosphates" - Syria has a phosphate industry, which supports the production of fertilizer and phosphoric acid. Between 1996 and 2001 Syria operated a pilot plant at Homs for the purification of phosphoric acid, in order to remove the uranium contanmination so that the phosphoric acid could be used for food processing. This project was financed by the UN Developement Program, supported by the IAEA, and not bombed by Israel.
On 16 September 2007 the UK newspaper The Observer reported that Israel's strike against Syria involved as many as eight aircraft, including F-15s and F-16s equipped with Maverick missiles and 500 pound bombs, along with an electronic intelligence gathering aircraft. On 16 September 2007 the Sunday Times reported that an IAF commando team arrived on the ground several days before the attack to direct laser beams at the target for the jets.

On 16 September 2007 the Sunday Times quoted an Israeli source as saying that Syria had been planning a "devastating surprise" for Israel, in the wake of reports that the Israel Air Force carried out an air strike against a North Korean nuclear shipment to Syria. The paper reported that Israeli sources said planning for the strike began in late spring 2007 when Mossad director Meir Dagan presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear weapon from North Korea. This news account implies but never actually asserts that the target of the Israeli attack was in fact a North Korean nuclear weapon.

On 16 September 2007 former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said "it will be very unusual for Israel to conduct such a military operation inside Syria other (than) for a very high value target and certainly a Syrian effort in nuclear weapon area will qualify. ... I think this is a clear message not only to Syria, this is a clear message to Iran as well that its continued efforts to acquire nuclear weapons are not going to go unanswered..." Bolton never claims direct knowledge of the facts of the matter, only that a strike against Syrian nuclear capabilities would be in the interest of Israel.

On 16 September 2007 it was reported by AFP that military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Israel had recovered its "deterrent capability" after the air strike in Syria. "The new situation affects the entire region, including Iran and Syria," local media reported. But Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the parliamentary committee, told reporters he instructed the military intelligence chief to avoid any mention of Syria at a committee meeting. And Yadlin's statement to the meeting, "Israel's deterrence has been rehabilitated since the Lebanon war, and it affects the entire regional system, including Iran and Syria ..." seems to have far more to do with an assessment of the July 2006 Op Change of Direction than it did to striking purported Syrian nuclear capabilities.

When the Yediot Aharonot poll asked Israeli Jews "According to foreign media reports, Israel attacked nuclear targets in Syria. Do you support or oppose this action?". 78% supported it, only 10% were opposed. (The rest gave no opinion.)

By 20 September 2007 the Washington Post editorialized "Media accounts are beginning to converge on a report that Israel bombed a facility where it believed Syria was attempting to hatch its own nuclear weapons program with North Korea's assistance. ... is beginning to look as if Israel may have carried out the boldest act of nuclear preemption since its own 1981 raid against Iraq's Osirak nuclear complex. If so, its silence is shrewd. It has allowed Syria to avoid a military response ... The non-news has boosted the previously rock-bottom poll numbers of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "

Tall al Abyad al`Atiq
Tall al Abyad al`Atiq [NGA preference, aka Tell Abiad Aatîq, Tall al Abyad, Tal al-Abiad] is a town located on the Syrian border with Turkey at 36°41'00"N 038°58'00"E, administratively belonging to Ar-Raqqah Governorate. The word Tell / Tall / Tal is arabic for mound or hill, Abyad / Abiad would seem to be Arabic for white, and atiq means ancient in Arabic. So possibly it might be said that the name of this town is Old White Hill. In the census of 1970 it was reported to have a population of 2,100 people, while other [undated but surely more recent] accounts say the population is about 12,000. There does not seem to be anything particularly noteworthy about this small border town -- no battles, no monuments, no ruins, no famous people, nothing of interest whatsoever.

Google Earth imagery coverage of the town itself is only available at 10-meter resolution. This imagery depicts small towns on either side of the border between Turkey to the North [Akcakale] and Syria to the South [Tall al Abyad al`Atiq]. The most noteworthy feature is the roughly 500 meter wide vegetation anomaly that is the area devoid of agricultural activity in the no-mans land between the two countries. Higher resolution imagery is present for some adjacent areas, but it is equally un-remarkable.

With a "joint communiqué" signed on 23 August 2002, by Syria and Turkey, Syrian Ministry of Irrigation and Turkey's Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) administration will lead joint projects and programs. GAP is a huge irrigation project covering southeast Anatolia. The wastewaters of Akcakale will be purified [note that Akçakale is a popular placename in Turkey and there are multiple instances of this name]. The Akcakale Water Purification Facilities, opened in 2002, are financed by the GAP administration and are expected to be in use till the year 2027. Since Akcakale district center is located on the Syrian border, wastewater from this settlement is discharged to a stream shared by Turkey and Syria. A treatment plant project envisages treatment for sewage and wastewater before any discharge to the stream. The treatment plant became operational in May 2002. This facility consisted of biological units, ventilated facultative pools and facultative stabilisation pools. The Akcakale municipality runs the facilities, which enable the purification and discharge of the waste waters of Akcakale back to the Culap River.

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Port of Tartus
Syria’s main ports are located at Baniyas, Jablah, Latakia, and Tartus. Tartus and Latakia each service approximately 2,800 vessels per year, with 1.5 million tons of goods loaded and 6.9 million tons of goods unloaded as of 2005. Latakia handled primarily general cargo and Tartus, both general cargo and phosphates. Baniyas primarily served the oil industry. Port facilities in both Tartus and Latakia need equipment upgrades. The European Investment Bank signed a loan agreement to finance the development and modernization of the Tartus port. A dry-docking facility was also under consideration as of 2004 at Tartus port. A Russian company has completed a dredging project to increase ship draft to enable larger ships to anchor at the port of Tartus while a Greek company was undertaking this task at the Latakia Port. Ports are state-run and lack sufficient funding; inadequate facilities, slow turnaround, cumbersome customs processing and regulations, and abundant corruption hamper port operations. The Ministry of Transport has attempted to lower fees in order to make Syrian ports more competitive with neighboring country ports. In 1998 and 1999, the Ministry of Transport reduced transit fees in an effort to make Syria's ports more competitive with neighboring country ports, but shippers reportedly still find them outdated and inefficient. Despite these efforts, most shippers still find them outdated and inefficient, negating most of the economies of scale anticipated when Syria was declared an authorized point of entry for UN approved goods for transshipment of goods to Iraq during the UN embargo on that country. There has been some official discussion of consolidating port agencies and making port fees more competitive, but no changes had taken place as of 2004. The government has also talked about constructing a third port for hazardous cargo south of Tartus, but has made no concrete moves to proceed with such a plan by 2004.

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