Arms, Nukes, Bolton, Birds, and Wine

Arms Probe ‘Torpedoing’ U.S. Overture, Syria Says (Update1)
By Bill Varner

MONCHEGORSK - Ship held in Limosol for transporting small arms from Iran to Syria. Seen in Rotterdam on 27th September 1992

MONCHEGORSK - Ship held in Limosol for transporting small arms from Iran to Syria. Seen in Rotterdam on 27th September 1992

March 20 (Bloomberg) — The Obama administration is hurting its bid to improve relations with Syria by pressing a United Nations probe into an arms shipment seized by Cyprus en route to the Syrian port of Latakia, a Syrian diplomat said.



“It is torpedoing this overture,” Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’Afari said in an interview today at the UN about the shipment, which the U.S. and Britain say came from Iran. “Maybe some circles within the administration are not in full accord with this effort.”

Ja’Afari was referring to the UN Security Council’s request that by today Iran and Syria explain the arms, including rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, found aboard a ship. Iran has ignored the query, while Syria sent a letter to the Security Council panel accusing it of overlooking arms violations by Israel, Ja’Afari said….

The weapons shipment violates the UN arms embargo on Iran that is among sanctions intended to block its nuclear program, U.S. and U.K. envoys have said.

“The Security Council sanctions committee is currently reviewing the response from Syria and determining next steps,” Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN, said. “As a member of that committee, the U.S. is engaged in that review.”…

‘Orchestrated Campaign’

“Raising the issue of this shipment is part of an orchestrated campaign to exert pressure on us to get political concessions,” Ja’Afari said in the interview. “We are saying that the Security Council has had all kinds of indications of Israeli violations of international law and has never held them accountable. It is a double standard.”

Ja’Afari said Syria and other Arab nations have the right to obtain weapons to defend against “Israeli invasions and aggressions.” The ambassador wouldn’t say whether he was referring to the weapons seized by Cyprus.

Cyprus has held the Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk off the southern port of Limassol since Jan. 29. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, it was traveling to Syria from Iran with weapons destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia or the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip….

Iran’s Axis of Nuclear Evil
By JOHN BOLTON in WSJ, March 21, 2009

John Bolton

John Bolton

While President Obama’s unanticipated Nowruz holiday greeting to Iran generated considerable press attention, his video wasn’t really this week’s big news related to the Islamic Republic. Far more important was that a senior defector — Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense Ali Reza Asghari — disclosed Tehran’s financing of Syria’s nuclear weapons program. That program’s centerpiece was a North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria. Israel destroyed it in September 2007.

At this point, it is impossible to ignore Iran’s active efforts to expand, improve and conceal its nuclear weapons program in Syria while it pretends to “negotiate” with Britain, France and Germany (the “EU-3”). No amount of video messages will change this reality. The question is whether this new information about Iran will sink in, or if Washington will continue to turn a blind eye toward Iran’s nuclear deceptions.

That the Pyongyang-Damascus-Tehran nuclear axis went undetected and unacknowledged for so long is an intelligence failure of the highest magnitude. It represents a plain unwillingness to allow hard truths to overcome well-entrenched policy views disguised as intelligence findings.

Key elements of our intelligence community (IC) fought against the idea of a Syrian nuclear program for years. In mid-2003, I had a bitter struggle with several IC agencies — news of which was leaked to the press — concerning my testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the Syrian program. Then Sen. Joe Biden made the Syria testimony an issue in my 2005 confirmation battle to become ambassador to the United Nations, alleging that I had tried to hype concern about Syria’s nuclear intentions. (In fact, my testimony, in both its classified and unclassified versions, was far more anodyne than the facts warranted.)

Key IC agencies made two arguments in 2003 against the possibility of a clandestine Syrian nuclear weapons program. First, they argued that Syria lacked the scientific and technological capabilities to sustain such a program. Second, they said that Syria did not have the necessary economic resources to fund a program.

These assertions were not based on highly classified intelligence. Instead, they were personal views that some IC members developed based on public information. The intelligence that did exist — which I thought warranted close observation of Syria, at a minimum — the IC discounted as inconsistent with its fixed opinions. In short, theirs was not an intelligence conclusion, but a policy view presented under the guise of intelligence.

How wrong they were.

As for Syria’s technical expertise, North Korea obviously had the scientific and technological ability to construct the reactor, which was essentially a clone of the North’s own at Yongbyon. Moreover, it is entirely possible that Syria’s nuclear program — undertaken with Pyongyang’s assistance — is even more extensive. We will certainly never know from Syria directly, since Damascus continues to deny it has any nuclear program whatever. It’s also stonewalling investigation efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As for Syria’s ability to finance a nuclear program, Iran could easily supply whatever Syria might need — even in a time of fluctuating oil prices. Moreover, given Iran’s hegemony over Syria, it is impossible to believe Syria would ever undertake extensive nuclear cooperation with North Korea without Iran’s acquiescence. Iran was likely an active partner in a three-way joint venture on the reactor, supplying key financial support and its own share of scientific knowledge. Cooperation on ballistic missile programs between Pyongyang and Tehran is longstanding and well-advanced, and thereby forms a basis of trust for nuclear cooperation. Moreover, both Iran and North Korea share a common incentive: to conceal illicit nuclear weapons programs from international scrutiny. What better way to hide such programs than to conduct them in a third country where no one is looking?

Uncovering the North Korean reactor in Syria was a grave inconvenience for the Bush administration. It enormously complicated both the failing six-party talks on North Korea and the EU-3’s diplomatic efforts with Iran, which Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice so actively supported.

Mr. Asghari’s revelations about Iranian financing of Syria’s nuclear program — if borne out — will have precisely the same negative impact on Obama administration policies, since they track Mr. Bush’s so closely. In fact, the two administrations’ approaches differ only to the extent that Mr. Obama is poised to pursue policies, like face-to-face negotiations with Iran, that the second term Bush State Department wanted to do, but faced too much internal dissonance to implement.

The Nowruz video reflects the dominant view within the Obama administration that its “open hand” will be reciprocated. It’s likely Iran will respond affirmatively to the near-plaintive administration request to “engage.”

And why not? Such dialogue allows Iran to conceal its true intentions and activities under the camouflage of negotiations, just as it has done for the past six years with the EU-3. What’s more, Iran will see it as confirmation of U.S. weakness and evidence that its policies are succeeding.

There is very little time for Mr. Obama to change course before he is committed to negotiations. He could start by following Iran’s money trail.

Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).

The bald facts
, Times of London

IBald Ibis

Bald Ibis, thought to be extinct in the Middle East in the 1990s, a colony of six was found at Palmyra, Syria, in 2002.

Which brings me to Birds of Syria. It’s a field guide. If you get a copy, remember to read it right to left. It is in Arabic, and is the first field guide to Syria accessible to Syrians. It has been put out by the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife, with the backing of Birdlife International.

How many Syrians knew that there are 394 species of birds in their country? A field guide allows the scales to fall from your eyes, so you might see the incalculable riches of your own place, and of all places. This has on its cover the extraordinary bald ibis, critically endangered. It includes the sociable lapwing, also endangered, and the Syrian serin, a local speciality.

Syrian Sirin

Syrian Sirin

The bald ibis is worth the admission money alone. This ridiculous looking bird was thought to be extinct in the Middle East in the 1990s. But a colony of six was found at Palmyra, Syria, in 2002. Extraordinary events like this happen in places where there are not many birdwatchers to the square mile. This book will begin to change that, opening the wonders to more people, inspiring more efforts for conservation.

But first, the field guide will tell every one of its readers about the most wonderful thing of all: that there are more different kinds of living things than you thought possible.

See also this wonderful article on Lebanon’s Wine Country, Touring and Tasting in the Bekaa Valley, by BROOKE ANDERSON. She includes a bit about wine production in Syria. Evidently, some 30 winemakers operate in Lebanon, more than double the number that were producing in 2005. … The Saadé Group announced the opening of two new wineries — one called Bargylus in the Syrian coastal province of Latakkia.

The bar at Château Kefraya

The bar at Château Kefraya

Ramzi Ghosn, winemaker at Massaya

Ramzi Ghosn, winemaker at Massaya

Comments (108)

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101. Shai said:

Not that I’m against investigative reporting… 🙂

But I imagine the huge difference between 1995 and 2007 is due to the (again huge) influx of Russian immigrants in the early 90’s who, most likely, gave birth to children within a number of years following their emigration.

As for 1 million Jews left today in Israel who were not born here, and did not emigrate to Israel between 1990-2001, it makes perfect sense. Most of them probably came over in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and are still alive.

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March 24th, 2009, 1:40 pm


102. Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:

On Syrian nukes.

I agree with Shai that if I were Syria I would feel an urge to get nukes. This seems like a good and necessary shortcut to achieving some sort of strategic balance with Israel and more regional power in general. HOWEVER, I think that the way Syria went after nukes was totally reckless. You can search the media for all the dirty laundry that we have in Israel internally due to running a clandestine operation: hundreds of people with cancer who never got recognition from the state for their damages and losses, an operation without oversight were nobody can report things like financial corruption or sexual abuse on premise, and pretty much any other ailment that you can think of that is the result of lack of transparency when dealing with such a dangerous subject matter. So this is of course reckless enough, on the Israeli side, but the Syrian reactor would have been 10 times more reckless since it most certainly would have used less safe technology AND unlike Dimona which doesn’t sit on an important river or aquiver, the Syrian reactor was straight on the Euphrates river, with the unsuspecting Iraqis downstream. What would you think were to happen if this reactor turned into another Chernobyl and killed millions of Iraqis and poisoned their floodplains for decades? Building a reactor with such a technology in such a location is the most reckless thing imaginable.

(On the other hand once it was operational, Israel the US would have been handcuffed, because had they bombed the site, they would have been responsible for poisoning the Iraqis. So it’s smart from this perspective, but still reckless.)

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March 25th, 2009, 11:13 pm


103. norman said:


Syria should seek nuclear technology as threat of force is the only language that Israel understand , I doubt that Syria was building a nuclear reactor in a place so easy to see , then you Israelis think that the Arabs are stupid , so i am not surprised that you think it was a nuclear reactor.

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March 26th, 2009, 12:35 am


104. Shai said:


I don’t think Yossi is suggesting that we “know” it was nuclear or not. But I claim that it doesn’t matter, and that if it was, it makes perfect sense that Syria is developing a nuclear program. If I were Syria, I would do the same.

Yossi’s claim that if indeed it was, and given its location, it seems like a reckless place to do it on. But I also agree with him about the “perfect location” status if and when it would have become operational, because the considerations for destroying it would have become infinitely more complex. I think the proof that “the Arabs are (not) stupid” is in the fact that this building had been there a number of years already, and no one said a word, or knew anything about it. And then, one bright day, it’s a nuclear reactor.

I’m no expert at nuclear reactors, but from what I understand, if a nation wants to build one it’s not so easy to conceal it. By the way, there was an Israeli professor who said he feared that the plant was not for the slow-process enrichment of Uranium, but rather for the processing of ready-made Plutonium.

I’m not suggesting it was a nuclear reactor. But if Israel has an active nuclear program, I certainly think all other nations in the region have legitimate claims to their own.

Yossi, I can’t imagine anyone on our immediate borders (i.e. within easy reach) developing a nuclear program overtly.

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March 26th, 2009, 5:29 am


105. Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:

Norman, (Shai),

Yes, my implicit assumption was that this was indeed a nuclear facility of some sorts in development. I don’t think it was easy to see, as it wasn’t discovered for a long while. It took an Iranian high-level defector to reveal the facility’s existence. Maybe I’m a sucker of the MSM but anything else at this point looks like a conspiracy theory to me.

Of course if I’m wrong about the actual nature of the facility, then I’ll retract my criticism about the recklessness of putting it where it allegedly was.

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March 26th, 2009, 8:40 am


106. norman said:

Shai, Rumyal,

If i were Syria and to build a nuclear reactor and I am a part of nuclear non profilation treaty , I would build one above ground for every one to see and inspect and one underground to do i want to do to compete with Israel,
One other question ,
Why didn’t they give all the information about the building immediately after it was destroyed and waited another year for that?.

Do you have any reason for that.?

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March 26th, 2009, 12:10 pm


107. Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


That sounds like a good idea, if you have the money for two reactors…

I don’t know why they kept it a secret. Perhaps there was nothing to be gained from publicizing it, this is definitely true of Israel that (a) has its own nuclear program it doesn’t wish to draw attention to and (b) had carried negotiations with Syria at the same time.

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March 28th, 2009, 10:46 am


108. Will Iranian Warships Through Suez Canal Change Balance Of Power? « Eurasia Review said:

[…] several months in 2009, Cyprus held the Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk off the southern port of Limassol. The U.S. and other European members of the council said the […]

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February 21st, 2011, 6:47 am


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