Posted by Joshua on Friday, September 21st, 2007
Syria tells IAEA: Israeli nukes sparking arms race Haaretz, By Yossi Melman
Syria's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Israel's nuclear capabilities were sparking an arms race in the region.
"The fact that UN and IAEA decisions regarding Israel's nuclear capability are not implemented increases the frustration of the Arab states and threatens to expand the arms race that could threaten the peace and security of the region and entire world," said Ibrahim Othman at IAEA's annual conference….
[Israel] has nuclear weapons and nuclear capabilities, that are not under international supervision," Othman continued. "It is a legitimate concern to ask Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty."
The atomic watchdog yesterday targeted Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal by calling for all Mideast nations to renounce atomic weapons.
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, 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.
Shots in the dark over Syria's skies
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times
DAMASCUS – Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, while becoming the first official of that country to admit that it did conduct an air raid into Syria on September 6, sheds no further light on the escapade, thus adding to the mountain of speculation that already exists on the incident.
Netanyahu said on Thursday that he had given Prime Minister Ehud Olmert his support for "an attack", and promptly drew a rebuke from the premier for speaking out of turn.
Israel has imposed a media blackout on the events of the night of September 6, when Syria claimed its airspace in the northern province of Raqqa had been violated and that its defenses forced Israeli F-15 jets to flee, dropping "munitions" and fuel tanks in the desert near the Turkish border.
The US media insist, however, that the Israelis hit something major. The latest reports, attributed to "US government sources", say that Israel, with tacit assistance and support from the US, bombed a facility at which nuclear weapons were being developed with assistance from North Korea.
Both Syria and North Korea have denied that they are cooperating in nuclear technology, and Pyongyang issued a harsh condemnation of the Israeli intrusion into Syrian airspace.
The two countries insist that the accusations have been fabricated by the US for political reasons – mainly targeting North Korea. Hawks, notably former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, are concerned by the peaceful direction in which the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program are going, preferring confrontation.
Joshua Landis, a professor at Oklahoma University who is an expert on Syrian affairs and runs Syriacomment.com, said: "Bolton represents the crowd that is very distressed that the US has declared defeat in North Korea by trusting the North Koreans. They would like to scuttle that agreement."
A diplomat associated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was quoted saying that the organization didn't know anything about any nuclear facility in Syria.
Buthaina Shaaban, Syria's minister of expatriate affairs, commented to Al-Manar TV, "All this rubbish is not true. I don't know how their imagination has reached such creativity." She added, "Regretfully, the international press is busy justifying an aggression on a sovereign state, and the world should be busy condemning it instead of inventing reasons and aims of this aggression."
The North Korea-Syria story started when Andrew Semmel of the US State Department claimed that Syria "might have" obtained nuclear equipment from "secret suppliers", adding that "there are North Korean people there [in Syria]. There is no question about that."
He repeated claims, made as early as 2004, that a network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the now-disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist who is believed to have supplied gas centrifuges and uranium hexaflouride to North Korea, operated from Syria. But there is no evidence whatsoever – otherwise it would have surfaced – of the Khan network operating from Syrian territory.
Journalists in the US took it from there, saying that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il might be hiding material in Syria, while pretending to rid his country of nuclear weapons to improve relations with the US.
There were reports that three days before the Israeli attack, a ship carrying North Korean material labeled as "cement" unloaded its cargo in Syria. That material, the reports said, was believed to be nuclear equipment.
The reports have not gone unchallenged. Joseph Cirincione, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and a senior fellow and director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, said, "This story is nonsense."
As mentioned above, the North Korea story is not new. It started in 2004 when Bolton, then under secretary for arms control, accused Syria of harboring nuclear ambitions. This was part of the stream of accusations against Syria after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
First it was that cronies of Saddam Hussein had fled to Damascus. When they were arrested one after the other within Iraq, the story was changed: Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were hidden in Syria. When that proved false, Bolton came out with his thundering accusation.
This prompted the IAEA to investigate, after which it said there was no evidence to back the claims. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei commented on June 26, 2004, "We haven't gotten any piece of information on why we should be concerned about Syria."
David Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector to Iraq, says that IAEA found Bolton's claims on Syria "unsubstantiated"….
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.
Surrounded by bodyguards, monitored by security cameras and protected by blast doors, Mosbah Ahdab, an MP in Lebanon's parliament, sits in the darkened flat in Tripoli he has rarely left over the past three months .
"My constituents call me simply 'the one who dares'," he told the Guardian with a grin that could not quite mask the seriousness of the subject. For Mr Ahdab believes he is a wanted man, a name on the hit-list of Lebanon's assassins, who work, say leading politicians, to the orders of the regime in Syria.
"There is a threat. We are hunted, one after the other," said Mr Ahdab, who was one of the few MPs in the western-backed March 14 coalition that swept into government opposing the influence of Damascus not to flee the country this summer.
The assassination on Wednesday of an MP, Antoine Ghanem, two days after he returned to Beirut to join the process of electing a new president has pitched a divided Lebanon further into turmoil.
President Emile Lahoud is due to step down by November 24 from a position reserved under Lebanon's constitutional system for a Maronite Christian. However, the government and opposition have yet to agree on a compromise candidate ahead of the reopening of parliament next Tuesday for the first time since Hizbullah withdrew its ministers from cabinet last November, raising fears of two rival governments emerging, or of a military interim head of state.
Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, yesterday, the information minister, Ghazi Aridi, pledged to press ahead with Tuesday's vote. "We are determined to hold the election on time," he said, adding that the ruling majority "keeps its hand extended to everybody," in an apparent reference to the opposition. "We have to save Lebanon."
Yet the murder of Mr Ghanem, the sixth anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated since a truck bomb killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, has reduced the ruling coalition's majority to three.
"Last year I had many calls from Syria – I could see the number -telling me I was going to be killed if I continued defending my position. Now I just get daily threats by letter," said Ahmed Fatfat, a March 14 (in reference to the date of protests against Syria's role in the country) cabinet minister. Since the killing of former cabinet colleague Pierre Gemayel last November, Mr Fatfat has lived a reclusive life in his offices in the government building in central Beirut, protected by troops.
For Mr Ahdab the watershed came in June with the car bomb that killed MP Waleed Aido, days after the government appointed judges to the UN court set up to try suspects in the assassination of Hariri, whose death triggered protests against Damascus and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
A UN investigation into Hariri's murder has found evidence of the involvement of Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials, a charge denied by Damascus.
"There is a political context to these assassinations you can't avoid," said Mr Ahdab. "The Syrian president has openly linked instability in Lebanon to the Hariri tribunal."
"If no president is elected on time there could be another war in Lebanon," said Rita Akeekee, a bank worker who yesterday observed an official day of mourning for Ghanem. "These assassins want to kill the message of a new Lebanon of peace and co- existence."
Mr Ahdab is taking no chances. He has sent his wife and children to Cyprus and hired six bodyguards. There is a roof over his driveway to hide his cars from assassins. When he has to travel he only tells his driver where they are going once on the road, having first removed the battery from his phone, so as not to be tracked.
Fury as Netanyahu confirms Syria strike
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem 21 September 2007 THE INDEPENDENT
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing opposition party Likud, was chacteristically at the centre of a controversy yesterday after appearing to be the first Israeli politician to confirm an air strike against Syria two weeks ago.
With reporting in Israel covoered by military censorship, Mr Netanyahu startled television viewers – and reportedly shocked the office of the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert – by answering a question about the supposed air strike in an interview.
Mr Netanyahu, a former prime minister, infuriated some of his political opponents by telling Channel One television that he was "party" to the operation on which he had personally congratulated Olmert. He declared " When the Prime Minister takes action in important and necessary matters, and generally when the government is doing things for the security of Israel, I give it my endorsement. I was party to this matter, I must say, from the first minute and I gave it my backing, but it is still too early to discuss this subject." Israel's government has maintained a studious, and unusual, silence since Syria first complained about an incursion into its airspace.
The row came as US President George Bush – while refusing to confirm what US officials have been anonymously briefing for more than a week was a strike on a suspected nuclear facility built with North Korean help – warned against nuclear prolifetration by North Korea.
Eitan Cabel, secretary general of the Labour Party, told Army Radio that Mr Netanyahu had been guilty of "an outburst that is severe, stupid and irresponsible". Mr Cabel, whose party leader, Ehud Barak, is seen by his supporters as the main rival to Mr Netanyahu for the future premiership, declared: "Bibi [Mr Netanyahu's nickname] is the same Bibi. I haven no idea if it is foolishness, stupidity, the desire to jump on the bandwagon, the desire to be a partner, to steal credit – or something else. It is simply very dangerous. The man simply does not deserve to lead."
An anonymous official said to be close to Mr Olmert was quoted in the Haaretz newspaper as saying: "Bibi's slip of the tongue borders on national irresponsibility. Once again Netanyahu couldn't restrain himself and he ran to tell the guys."
The political row – fuelled by party divisions – followed a declaration by Shimon Peres, the Israeli President, on Tuesday that the tensions caused by the incident were "over" and the government was prepared for talks with Syria aimed at ending the 40 years of emnity between the two countries since Israel captured the Golan heights in the Six Day War in 1967.
Some right- wing politicians went to Mr Netanyahu's defence, with the Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz saying: "Netanyahu's statements were unfortunate, but they caused no harm. This is a tempest in a tea cup."
Ehud Barak – who has refrained from any comment either on the supposed Israeli operation or on Mr Netanyahu's comments, said: "It is a pity that the aides of the worst prime minister in the history of the state seek out every opportunity to incite against Netanyahu, and permit themselves to use language that is lowly and contemptible, albeit typical."
Meanwhile the European Union is calling on Israel to consider tighter sanctions on Gaza by cutting power and fuel in response to Qassam rocket attacks. Javier Solana, the EU foreign affairs chief, said: "We join the call by the secretary general of the United Nations for the Israeli government to reconsider its decision."
The European Commission, which helped coordinate emergency aid to Palestinians after the election victory of the militant Islamist group Hamas prompted the West to suspend direct aid to the territories, also urged Israel to reconsider. "The Commission hopes that Israel will not find it necessary to implement the measures for which the decisions set the framework yesterday," a spokeswoman for the EU executive said. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, urged Israel on Wednesday to reconsider its decision to declare the Gaza Strip a hostile territory, warning that any cut-off of vital services would violate international law and punish the already suffering civilian population. Mr Ban said he was very concerned at the Israeli government's "announced intent to interrupt essential services such as electricity and fuel to the civilian population".
In Mideast, Web of Careful Phrases Can't Match Pointed Words
By HELENE COOPER, September 21, 2007 NEW YORK TIMES
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sept. 20 — In the diplomatic world, words can mean everything — or nothing.
With two lines in an otherwise routine news conference, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, cut to the heart of the divide between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as the Bush administration struggled to come up with a plan for peace negotiations in the Middle East.
The big peace conference that President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are planning for mid-November, Mr. Abbas said, must tackle the politically sensitive "final status" issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979. Dispensing with all the diplomatic niceties that American officials have been using to try to calm the fears of skittish Israelis who are uneasy about tackling the big issues, Mr. Abbas spelled out the Palestinian, and in many ways American, aims for the meeting.
Mr. Abbas called for discussions on "borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water and security." With Ms. Rice, her demeanor bland, standing next to him in a cavernous room in Yasir Arafat's old Muqata compound, Mr. Abbas said, "We believe that the time is ripe for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and for living side by side in security and tranquillity with the State of Israel."
He chided American officials for being too ambiguous, and explained that part of the reason that Arab countries had not rushed to endorse the conference — with the United States expected to be host at a site yet to be determined — was because no one had promised in plain English that the conference would tackle final status issues. "I believe there is a need for clarification," he said. "That's the duty of the inviting party to the conference."
His blunt words were a far cry from the purposely ambiguous diplo-speak that Ms. Rice has been engaging in as she has sought to drag Israel to the table for meaningful talks. She has discussed finding "a common set of principles" toward a "political horizon," to "support and advance the negotiations" along the "bilateral track."
"Because after all," she told reporters, in a phrase that left most scratching their heads, "the bilateral track has to be at the center of any resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
Israeli officials are wary of committing to negotiating final status issues before their security concerns are met. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has grown more comfortable in his talks with Mr. Abbas, the Israeli public remains highly skeptical that the Palestinians, who elected the rejectionist Hamas Party, are serious about coexistence.
Despite Israel's withdrawal of all its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, Qassam rockets are shot routinely into the country from Gaza. As a result, Israeli leaders are loath to discuss at the conference the removal of West Bank settlements. And forget about Jerusalem, which both sides seek as their capital; Israeli officials are not eager to put the status of Jerusalem on the table at a big conference attended by everybody from Saudi Arabia to Britain to Russia, either.
The closest the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni , would come this week was to express the need for finding "commonalities" between Israelis and Palestinians. "Of course we would like to end the conflict right away," Ms. Livni said. But, she added, "It's important to find what is the common denominator."
After a meeting on Thursday with Ms. Rice in Tel Aviv, Mr. Olmert offered similar assurances. He told Ms. Rice that Israel "wanted to make a positive contribution to a successful meeting and was eager that the meeting be attended by many moderate Arab states," said a spokesman for Mr. Olmert, David Baker.
American officials say that it is not that the Israelis don't want to tackle the hard stuff. It's more that Israeli officials, in particular former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is now defense minister, remember President Clinton's push for a comprehensive peace accord in 2000 between Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat. That push failed and led, many Israelis believe, to the second Palestinian intifada. Israelis now are reluctant to make another big peace push without the assurance that it will yield results.
Both sides are working on some kind of document to bridge the gap, and Ms. Rice said she would be heading back to the region in a few weeks to prod some more. And then probably again before the November conference.
Aboard her flight back to Washington, she reflected on the six visits she has made this year to Israel to get a peace plan going, including the evolution of the language she has used to describe what she is up to.
Back in February, she noted, she began using "the very carefully guided phrase 'political horizon.' "
"I know there was some skepticism about the term 'political horizon' and what it meant," she said. "But it gave an umbrella where they could discuss issues they hadn't discussed in six years."
"Now," she said, the two sides are "openly saying they'll discuss 'core issues.' "
Israel Ends West Bank Operation
In Nablus, in the West Bank, Israeli forces yesterday concluded a three-day operation in a large refugee camp, Ein Beit Ilma, capturing three men who the Israeli Army said were "Hamas terrorists planning a suicide bombing."
The men were said to be part of a cell that also included members of Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. An army spokesman, Capt. Benjamin Rutland, said the three men "admitted to planning a terrorist attack" and included a potential suicide bomber.
Since Tuesday, more than 35 Palestinians have been arrested and the camp has been under curfew.
In central Gaza, Israeli troops operating against rocket-launching teams killed a 17-year-old Palestinian, Mahmoud Kasasi, who was hit by shrapnel from a tank shell and then run over by an army bulldozer, according to the Gazan Health Ministry. Three other Palestinians were killed in the operation, Reuters reported.
Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Jerusalem.