The New York Times: An Israeli Strike on Syria Kindles Debate in the U.S.

Posted by Alex. 


WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 — A sharp debate is under way in the Bush administration about the significance of the Israeli intelligence that led to last month’s Israeli strike inside Syria, according to current and former American government officials.

At issue is whether intelligence that Israel presented months ago to the White House — to support claims that Syria had begun early work on what could become a nuclear weapons program with help from North Korea — was conclusive enough to justify military action by Israel and a possible rethinking of American policy toward the two nations.

The debate has fractured along now-familiar fault lines, with Vice President Dick Cheney and conservative hawks in the administration portraying the Israeli intelligence as credible and arguing that it should cause the United States to reconsider its diplomatic overtures to Syria and North Korea.

By contrast, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her allies within the administration have said they do not believe that the intelligence presented so far merits any change in the American diplomatic approach.


“Some people think that it means that the sky is falling,” a senior administration official said. “Others say that they’re not convinced that the real intelligence poses a threat.”

Several current and former officials, as well as outside experts, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the intelligence surrounding the Israeli strike remains highly classified.

Besides Ms. Rice, officials said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was cautious about fully endorsing Israeli warnings that Syria was on a path that could lead to a nuclear weapon. Others in the Bush administration remain unconvinced that a nascent Syrian nuclear program could pose an immediate threat.

It has long been known that North Korean scientists have aided Damascus in developing sophisticated ballistic missile technology, and there appears to be little debate that North Koreans frequently visited a site in the Syrian desert that Israeli jets attacked Sept. 6. Where officials disagree is whether the accumulated evidence points to a Syrian nuclear program that poses a significant threat to the Middle East.

Mr. Cheney and his allies have expressed unease at the decision last week by President Bush and Ms. Rice to proceed with an agreement to supply North Korea with economic aid in return for the North’s disabling its nuclear reactor. Those officials argued that the Israeli intelligence demonstrates that North Korea cannot be trusted. They also argue that the United States should be prepared to scuttle the agreement unless North Korea admits to its dealing with the Syrians.

During a breakfast meeting on Oct. 2 at the White House, Ms. Rice and her chief North Korea negotiator, Christopher R. Hill, made the case to President Bush that the United States faced a choice: to continue with the nuclear pact with North Korea as a way to bring the secretive country back into the diplomatic fold and give it the incentive to stop proliferating nuclear material; or to return to the administration’s previous strategy of isolation, which detractors say left North Korea to its own devices and led it to test a nuclear device last October.

Mr. Cheney and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, also attended the meeting, administration officials said.

The Israeli strike occurred at a particularly delicate time for American diplomatic efforts. In addition to the North Korean nuclear negotiations, the White House is also trying to engineer a regional Middle East peace conference that would work toward a comprehensive peace accord between Arabs and Israelis.

The current and former American officials said Israel presented the United States with intelligence over the summer about what it described as nuclear activity in Syria. Officials have said Israel told the White House shortly in advance of the September raid that it was prepared to carry it out, but it is not clear whether the White House took a position then about whether the attack was justified.

One former top Bush administration official said Israeli officials were so concerned about the threat posed by a potential Syrian nuclear program that they told the White House they could not wait past the end of the summer to strike the facility.

Last week, Turkish officials traveled to Damascus to present the Syrian government with the Israeli dossier on what was believed to be a Syrian nuclear program, according to a Middle East security analyst in Washington. The analyst said that Syrian officials vigorously denied the intelligence and said that what the Israelis hit was a storage depot for strategic missiles.

That denial followed a similar denial from North Korea. Mr. Hill, the State Department’s assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific affairs, raised the Syria issue with his North Korean counterparts in talks in Beijing in late September. The North Koreans denied providing any nuclear material to Syria.

Publicly, Syrian officials have said Israeli jets hit an empty warehouse.

Bruce Riedel, a veteran of the C.I.A. and the National Security Council and now a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, said that American intelligence agencies remained cautious in drawing hard conclusions about the significance of the suspicious activity at the Syrian site.

Still, Mr. Riedel said Israel would not have launched the strike in Syria if it believed Damascus was merely developing more sophisticated ballistic missiles or chemical weapons.

“Those red lines were crossed 20 years ago,” he said. “You don’t risk general war in the Middle East over an extra 100 kilometers’ range on a missile system.”

Another former intelligence official said Syria was attempting to develop so-called airburst capability for its ballistic missiles. Such technology would allow Syria to detonate warheads in the air to disperse the warhead’s material more widely.

Since North Korea detonated its nuclear device, Ms. Rice has prodded Mr. Bush toward a more diplomatic approach with North Korea, through talks that also include Japan, Russia, South Korea and China. Those talks led to the initial agreement last February for North Korea to shut down its nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel and food aid.

That deal angered conservatives who believed that the Bush administration had made diplomacy toward North Korea too high a priority, at the expense of efforts to combat the spread of illicit weapons in the Middle East.

“Opposing the Israeli strike to protect the six-party talks would be a breathtaking repudiation of the administration’s own national security strategy,” said John R. Bolton, former United States ambassador to the United Nations.

But other current and former officials argue that the diplomatic approach is America’s best option for dealing with the question of North Korean proliferation.

“You can’t just make these decisions using the top of your spinal cord, you have to use the whole brain,” said Philip D. Zelikow, the former counselor at the State Department. “What other policy are we going to pursue that we think would be better?” Read

Comments (19)

Thomas said:

I think we can trust the Syrians and North Koreans on this one.

October 10th, 2007, 12:00 pm


Guy Regev said:

Why won’t the western media pick up the glove, buy some updated satellite pictures and show us before and after photos of the Deir Ez-zor facility?
Also, what ever happened to Samuel, the lone Syrian who reported on the raid in this site? Have the Mukhabarat reached him?

October 10th, 2007, 12:36 pm


Friend in America said:

This is a page 1, collumn 1 news story. It will put pressure on Washington and Tel Aviv to disclose further intellegence information. Damascus will remain quiet so it can play either side of the story as it unfolds. There will be no media trips to Dayr az Zawr.
I give Israeli intelligence the benefit of the doubt. They were on to something. The only question is how significant was the activity. I am aware those in Washington involved in the North Korea negotiations were extremely concerned because the agreement with North Korea detailing procedures for dismantling its nuclear capability under international supervision had not been signed. This explains why there was such secrecy. That agreement has now been signed and dismantling will begin this year. Information is beginning to leak out.
My assessment is unchanged: there has been unusual activity in and near the small reactor at Dayr az Zawr which involved nuclear, that the reactor cannot enrich low grade uranium because it lacks centrafuges and other machinery necessary for enriching and is too small for meaningful production, that if Syria were to engage in enrichment, the IAEA would soon be on its case, that if the “cement” shipment actually was plutonium, centrafuges are not needed and hasty production could produce weaponry before IAEA got out of the coffee houses in Vienna, that Iran is financing this activity (by trading oil for North Korean materials and to Syria weaponry plus cash), that the leadership desires to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, that Iran ultimately will make the decision on the use of any nuclear weaponry, that to date air cluster bombs have not been used in nuclear bombs but could be used in chemical weaponry, that the weaponry in development (or manufacture) at Dayr az Zawr was not a conventional nuclear bomb but a new device first used by Russia that would raise terrorism to a new level.
An alternate assessment is that North Korea desired to secretly “park” its plutonium and some nuclear machinery until the international inspectors have departed and was naieve enough to think it would escape attention if parked in the Syrian desert.
Look for disclosure of the lab tests of soil, etc taken by the Israeli commandos. If the tests are neutral, there is a problem with the foregoing assessment, and a big problem with the strategic thinking in Damascus. If not neutral, case settled.
Not established is linkage between the chemical weapon activity, the new longer range missiles and nuclear weaponry of any possible type.

October 10th, 2007, 2:11 pm


Observer said:

So far the mountain has delivered a mouse. So many reports so little light being shed on this issue.

October 10th, 2007, 3:28 pm


Ghassan said:

The solution is simple and easy! Syria will invite all foreign reporters in the middle east to the site, allow them to take soil samples after they tour the peaceful “not-in-use” facilty! It will prove that Israel is mistaken and wrong! And Syria is right!

October 10th, 2007, 3:45 pm


Bashmann said:

Interesting things hapenning in Washington as we speak. This is something I received in e-mail a moment ago. I’m sure many of you reading this will find things to say about it either for or against.



The Enslaving of Arabs and the Re-Occupation of Lebanon is Underway

Washington DC, October 10, 2007/Reform Syria Blog – Farid Ghadry/ — I read the post below and I could not help but think that the re-occupation of Lebanon is underway. Maybe it is too early to sound the alarms but in my experience, Washington ideas creep on you slowly and the post below looks very much like we are bringing the ghosts of the past.

This is another attempt by the Iraq Study Group, now that Iraq is on its way to become a success story, to create conditions to terminate the “democratic” experience in Lebanon and to engage with thugs, murderers, and killers. It never ceases to amaze me to see how the confidence politicians show in the greatness of this nation wanes when the tough gets going. Puny little Assad kills Americans so let us engage him and submit to his will. Iranian thug Ahmadinajead threatens the whole region, so let us simply accept the fact that we can live with an Iranian nuclear bomb. Short of these, most of the politicians behind the idea of engagement are trying to climb back into the ladder of power by bringing us back the same policies that created the conditions for al-Qaeda. Lessons unlearned, no interest.

Furthermore, the signers of the proposed letter mentioned below believe that the democratic experience in the Middle East has failed. They forgot that it took the US over 90 years of wars and pain before it found its compass of truth. Some 4 years into Iraqis discovering their truth, they show the impatience of defeatism crawling under their skin and for what: To bring back old ideas that further stifles the liberties of 300 million Arabs and Muslims in the region. There are no wins before we defeat the mentality that created the suicide bomber, there are no gains before extremists and thugs submit to the will of the majority of the civilized world. Every time we have a problem with Assad in the future, he will simply send another suicide bomber to warn us. That is not the way to build the character of a strong nation.

Engaging with Syria and Hamas are bad ideas. The Assad regime is on the verge of an economic collapse, which will create opportunities to “structure” a change having learned from the mistakes that were made in Iraq. Stifling the liberties of millions is not the answer to the problems in the region, in fact it show lack of vision, but staying the course by de-constructing Ba’athism and working the diplomatic details necessary to help Syria achieve normalcy will, in the long run, be the better investment, not only for the region but for the interests of the world community. Supporting dictatorships or Muslim extremists in the 21 century is a source of shame to all those who advocate these policies.

There is no difference between supporting dictatorships in the Arab world and the enslaving of African-Americans this nation experienced. Both are ugly but while we regret one and have come to accept these past inhuman mistakes, we do not seem to think that enslaving millions more by proxy is any different than enslaving directly. As far as we are concerned, the letter to be sent by Scowcroft and crowd is simply a “Declaration to Enslave”. Enslave the Palestinian people by Muslim extremists and enslave the Syrian people by a minority-controlled country oppressing the majority of the population. History will not be kind to great men with shameful ideas.


Scowcroft, Brzezinski, Hamilton, Kassebaum Baker, Hills & Others Call for Syria and Hamas to Be Engaged in Israel-Palestine Effort

Later today (Wednesday), an interesting letter that I will post at 2 pm will be sent to President Bush outlining key requirements necessary to secure any real success in the November Israel-Palestine Peace Summit that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice will orchestrate in Annapolis.

The signers of the letter are diverse and will send a powerful, provocative message to President Bush.

Signers include former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US Trade Representative Carla Hills, Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and US Ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering, former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, former House International Relations Committee Chiarman Lee Hamilton, former Counselor to President Kennedy Theodore Sorensen, and former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker.

The letter essentially makes the point that America — in addition to the Israelis and Palestinians — can ill afford yet another staged “epic effort designed to fail’. In the past, America could earnestly attempt to negotiate solutions in this unresolved Middle East mess but still could ‘afford to fail’.

Today, when as Zbigniew Brzezinski has said, America’s engagement in the Middle East is the defining challenge it faces in this era — another failure will come at the very high cost of further eroding American credibility internationally.

What may be the most remarkable thing about this bipartisan statement is not only who is saying it but what they are prepared to say.

In the letter to Bush, beyond calling on the US and the parties to focus on the outlines of a final status settlement, the co-signatories defy the administration’s views by calling for an end to the policy of isolating Hamas and for a shift in policy toward Syria — including both US/Syria engagement and renewal of Syrian/Israeli negotiations.

Colin Powell — who is not (yet) a signatory — has also called for communication with Hamas, and the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group called for engaging Syria. This letter makes the point even more strongly.

Journalists and bloggers interested in participating on the conference call can contact me before 1:30 pm Eastern time — and I will have my colleagues get you information to listen in to a call with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, and Lee Hamilton.

The conference call will take place at 2 p.m. — when I will post their letter to President Bush.

This effort has been jointly organized by the US/Middle East Project Inc., the International Crisis Group, and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program. (My pal and colleague Daniel Levy has been the lead on pulling this together for the New America Foundation.)

— Steve Clemons

October 10th, 2007, 4:09 pm


t_desco said:

Interrogation of Fatah al-Islam Terrorists Revealed

Interrogation of the detained Fatah al-Islam terrorists showed that the Islamists planned to seize control of a “big section” of northern Lebanon in addition to “destabilize” the country by shelling government institutions and business facilities as well as attacking U.N. peacekeepers in an effort to hinder implementation of U.N. resolutions, particularly 1701, the daily An Nahar said Wednesday.
It said interrogation also showed that a large number of Fatah al-Islam militants were “true Jihads,” or holy warriors, who were under the impression that they were going to fight in Iraq.

Most of the non-Lebanese militants had illegally crossed into Lebanon from Syria overland, and a few had entered the country via Beirut airport, according to the grilling.

The daily said it is believed that following Arab, European and U.S. pressure on Syria to stop exporting jihad fighters to Iraqi, hundreds of holy warriors were sent to Lebanon under Shaker al-Abssi’s Fatah al-Islam umbrella after his mysterious release from Damascus along with a few aids.

Interrogation of the captives also showed that those who came illegally from Syria had infiltrated via a border area controlled by Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine –General Command, which is backed and financed by Syria.

An Nahar said Fatah al-Islam fighters had also received paramilitary training at PFLP-GC bases along the Lebanese border with Syria.

It said the circumstances of Abssi’s release and the way the Syrian-backed Fatah-Intifada, or uprising, had facilitated Abssi’s movements, in addition to a number of other factors, showed that a well-planned, premeditated plot could not have been made without the knowledge and blessing of Fatah-Intifada.

Evidence that “direct contacts” between some Fatah al-Islam leaders and high-ranking Syrian Intelligence officers also supported doubts that Syria’s security service used Fatah al-Islam for political and security purposes in Lebanon.

Cross-examination also showed that Fatah al-Islam was made up of “two main components”: 1- External, which includes Syrians and Palestinians living in Syria and were tasked with missions outside their bases like the Ein Alaq bombings. 2- Internal, where militants were confined to the refugee camp and not allowed to leave.

It is not exactly breaking news that Fatah al-Islam split from PFLP-GC, also the reason (most probably) why Abu Khaled al-`Amlah is in jail.

Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis

Middle East Report N°69
10 October 2007
International Crisis Group

Mysterious transmissions assaulting Israeli satellite TV broadcasts

Israeli satellite TV viewers have for the past month had their favorite programs disrupted by electronic snowstorms, variously said to be caused by the radar of U.N. patrol boats, Russian spy ships or Israel’s military. On Wednesday the satellite TV company was said to be near collapse.

The interference began on Sept. 6, the day Israeli warplanes slipped past Syria’s Russian-made air defense systems, attacked a military target deep inside the country and escaped unchallenged. Israeli has maintained an almost total official silence over the strike, which Syria said hit an unused military installation.

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on Tuesday pointed to Moscow as another possible culprit, quoting an unnamed Israeli security official as saying Moscow was suspected of beaming signals at Israel to try to probe its military electronic capability in the wake of the Sept. 6 raid on Syria and as an expression of its anger at Israel for making Syria’s Russian radar appear impotent.

Another Yediot Ahronot story, by the paper’s diplomatic correspondent, quoted an unnamed government official as saying that the answer to the riddle could lie in Israel itself, with the emissions coming from military radar.

Ships don’t move that fast and the interference began on the day of the attack itself.

October 10th, 2007, 4:24 pm


IsraeliGuy said:

‘Nasrallah survived overthrow attempt’,7340,L-3458583,00.html

October 10th, 2007, 5:10 pm


Nour said:

All these articles about the Israeli “raid” on Syria are intended to sustain the propaganda campaign against Syria and the claim that Israel bombed a nuclear facility in Syria. The media has historically played a very dirty role in demonizing target countries and beating the drums of war. They did the same with Iraq before the invasion, even though I have no doubt that they were aware of the falsity of the WMD claims. In addition, these stories are intended to be part of a psychological war against Syria and the Syrian people, keeping them uneasy, and also meant to harm Syrian economy by discouraging investments.


Any Syrian who advocates an attack on his/her own country is a criminal in my book, and Farid Ghadry falls under that category. He is obviously a propaganda tool being used by the American administration to assist them in their war against Syria. He is not an opposition figure, but a foreign collaborator. There are many true opposition groups and individuals, who are struggling inside Syria to bring about real change, while someone like Ghadry sits in his luxury in Washington and encourages the US and Israel to attack his country. I have no respect for such disgraceful individuals.


Annahar is a propaganda outlet for the loyalist camp in Lebanon and nothing it says can be taken seriously. It has made several false claims before and will continue to do so in the future, as the intention is to incite people against Syria and give justification for an attack on Syria without regard for the credibility and accuracy of their reports.

October 10th, 2007, 5:28 pm


offended said:

the informed political sources of Al Seyasa are as informed as the janitor of our building..

October 10th, 2007, 6:10 pm


why-discuss said:


Al Siyassah has always colported scoops that turn out to be empty balloons. After accusing violently Nasrallah to be pro-persian and anti-arab and to want to create an islamic republic in Lebanon, now he is accused to be pro-syrian and wants to create a Baath republic in Lebanon.
Kuwait has a large population of Shia and the ruling (sunni)family is not partitcularly happy to see that this community admires Nasrallah more then them. Kuwait has very large US bases to protect them from the big bad wolf, Iran. Anything is good to discredit Nasrallah and to create a rift between the arab shia and Iran.

October 10th, 2007, 6:59 pm


IsraeliGuy said:

I didn’t bring the story because I believe or disbelieve it.
Just thought it was an interesting report.

I have no tools to approve or reject its content.

October 10th, 2007, 7:58 pm


t_desco said:

US urged to engage with Syria
By Daniel Dombey in Washington

Several former senior US officials on Wednesday warned President George W. Bush that next month’s conference on the Middle East risked having “devastating consequences” if it failed – and called on the administration to engage more with Syria in the push for a deal. …
Financial Times

Scowcroft, Brzezinski, Hamilton, Kassebaum Baker, Hills & Others Call for Syria and Hamas to Be Engaged in Israel-Palestine Effort
Steve Clemons

Bipartisan Foreign Policy Leaders on Annapolis Conference
Prospects for Peace

October 10th, 2007, 10:16 pm


t_desco said:

Group linked to Al Qaida killed Hariri – report
Gulf News Report

The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was planned and executed by an Islamist group linked to Al Qaida, claimed a Lebanese daily yesterday.

Al Akhbar newspaper said that leaked interrogation documents reveal that members of the 13-Group, which has strong links with Al Qaida, have admitted to the crime, but the documents were concealed from international investigator Serge Brammertz.

Members of the group were arrested in September 2005, in relation to the investigation about Ahmad Abu Adas, who appeared in a video tape after the assassination and claimed responsibility.

The members were interrogated by different sides, and results were hastily conveyed to the international investigation committee. Later on, all charges related to the assassination of Hariri were dropped.

The group, which was based in Syria, had Saudi, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian members, was financed and trained by Al Qaida, according to the prosecution list presented at the Lebanese Military Court.

The prosecution decision said the group had good relations with Abu Adas, who disappeared a month before the assassination and reappeared later in the video, which caused this group to be revealed by the Lebanese security bodies.

The newspaper starts publishing the investigation documents from today.
Gulf News, October 09, 2007; Al-Akhbar I, II

October 10th, 2007, 11:59 pm


why-discuss said:

Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis
Internationl cris group Middle East Report N°69
10 October 2007

Read here
Exerpts appeared in L’Orient le Jour newspaper

October 11th, 2007, 1:32 am


norman said:

US urged to engage with Syria
By Daniel Dombey in Washington
Financial Times
Updated: 9:12 p.m. ET Oct 10, 2007
Several former senior US officials on Wednesday warned President George W. Bush that next month’s conference on the Middle East risked having “devastating consequences” if it failed – and called on the administration to engage more with Syria in the push for a deal.

The bipartisan letter, whose signatories include Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisers, Carla Hills, former trade representative, and Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, also argues that the US and its international partners should push through a template for a settlement via the United Nations, even if the Israelis and Palestinians object.

They believe such a template should reflect previous peace initiatives and include the principles of two states, with “minor” and “reciprocal” adjustments to the 1967 borders, and both with their capital in Jerusalem.

“The Middle East remains mired in its worst crisis in years,” the letter says. “Because failure risks devastating consequences in the region and beyond, it is critically important that the conference succeed.”

The meeting, scheduled for late November in Annapolis, near Washington DC, is perhaps the Bush administration’s most ambitious attempt since taking office to make a breakthrough in the conflict. Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, has repeatedly called for a “substantive” conference.

But some Arab diplomats say the US has yet to make sufficient preparation or a strategic choice on whether to engage with Syria, despite having invited Damascus to the event. “If Syria or Hamas [which controls the Gaza Strip] are ostracised, prospects that they will play a spoiler role increase dramatically,” the letter says.

Speaking on Wednesday, Sean McCormack, state department spokesman, said the administration would look at the ideas in the letter.

“Failure is not an option,” he said of the conference. “The stakes are too high for the people of the region.”

The debate over US relations with Damascus has also been inflamed by speculation set off by an Israeli strike on Syria last month, amid allegations that North Korea is continuing to helping Syria to develop weapons of mass destruction. The New York Times on Wednesday suggested Dick Cheney, vice-president, recently pushed for the US to rethink its diplomatic initiatives regarding Syria and North Korea but that Ms Rice successfully resisted a change of course.

“On any given issue, they might have – you know, might have different views,” Mr McCormack, said on Wednesday of Ms Rice and Mr Cheney, adding that “they have a great working relationship”.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.


MSN Privacy . Legal
© 2007

October 11th, 2007, 1:36 am


norman said:

الاسد : سورية لن تشارك في مؤتمر “السلام”

قال الرئيس بشار الاسد في حديث صحفي بإن “سورية لم تتلق الدعوة لمؤتمر الخريف وحتى لو أتت هذه الدعوة فإنها لن تشارك في مؤتمر يفتقد لفرص النجاح”


October 11th, 2007, 3:09 am


Enlightened said:

Interesting Article in Time Magazine Titled “When Israel Arms the Arabs”, here is the link! (LOL),8599,1667932,00.html

October 11th, 2007, 5:02 am


Enlightened said:

Akbar can you please contact your friends at Debka and ask them if this has any truth to it or just some more of their propoganda ?


Americans plan airbase in North lebanon

Here is the link:

October 11th, 2007, 5:35 am


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