It looks as if Israel may, in fact, have had reason to believe that Syria was constructing, with the aid and assistance of North Korea, a facility capable of housing a nuclear reactor. The United States Central Intelligence Agency recently released a series of images, believed to have been made from a videotape obtained from Israeli intelligence, which provide convincing, if not incontrovertible, evidence that the “unused military building” under construction in eastern Syria was, in fact, intended to be used as a nuclear reactor. Syria continues to deny such allegations as false.
On the surface, the revelations seem to bolster justification not only for the Israeli air strike of September 6 2007, which destroyed the facility weeks or months before it is assessed to have been ready for operations, but also the hard-line stance taken by the administration of President George W Bush toward both Syria and North Korea regarding their alleged covert nuclear cooperation. In the aftermath of the Israeli air strike, Syria razed the destroyed facility and built a new one in its stead, ensuring that no follow-up investigation would be able to ascertain precisely what had transpired there.
Largely overlooked in the wake of the US revelations is the fact that, even if the US intelligence is accurate (and there is no reason to doubt, at this stage, that it is not), Syria had committed no crime, and Israel had no legal justification to carry out its attack. Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, is required to provide information on the construction of any facility involved in nuclear activity “as early as possible before nuclear material is introduced to a new facility”. There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction.
Editor’s Comment — If former UN weapons inspector and stalwart critic of the war in Iraq, Scott Ritter, says there’s no reason at this stage to doubt the accuracy of the intelligence on the Syrian reactor, is this enough to quieten those who seemed convinced that this must be a hoax? Maybe, maybe not.
The story at this point, as far as I’m concerned, is not about the intelligence — it’s political. And to delve into the political implications, we need to look at the context. On the one hand, the fact that this came out now clearly may have something to do with the efforts of those who want to undermine the six-party talks with North Korea. On the other hand, it may have as much to do with Israel and Syria’s moves towards peace. And while the story could have been pushed to undermine those moves, it could also have been a way of pushing the issue off the table. If at the end of the day Assad can claim victory in having reclaimed the Golan Heights, the loss of a clandestine nuclear program is one he has already had to quietly write off — it no longer risks being a knot that ties up negotiations. That isn’t to jusify Israel’s unilateralism, but it might explain, in part, why they did what they did.
Iraq’s dance: Maliki, Sadr and Sunnis
…the idea of Sadr becoming a nonviolent actor in Iraqi politics is all but gone after a month of almost daily street fighting between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi government forces backed by the Americans. Sadr appears now more than ever a militia leader, and the door allowing him to step into Green Zone deal-making seems closed. That means Sadr and his Mahdi Army are quickly becoming the major hardened mass resistance group to the Iraqi government and its U.S. supporters. Even if Maliki strikes a reconciliation deal with Sunni factions, his government will know no peace — and hold little legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis. In addition to commanding up to 60,000 militia fighters, Sadr has a popular following throughout southern Iraq and Baghdad. Sadr is, quite simply, the most powerful political player in the country, and any government without some meaningful inclusion of his following is unlikely to succeed in consolidating authority on a national scale.
Mccain vs. Mccain
In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.
We have spent months debating Barack Obama’s suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain’s proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.
Global Briefing: Israel and Syria make moves towards peace
Summary – Israel indicates readiness to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria, while Turkey offers mediation through ‘proactive peace diplomacy’. In southern Lebanon, Hizbollah expands its fighting capabilities though UN peacekeeping general is not alarmed. The Afghanistan president Karzai survives assassination attempt and is critical of US and Britain’s conduct in the war. In Zimbabwe the crackdown on the opposition continues as Robert Mugabe fails to regain control of parliament, while Angola blocks Chinese arms shipment. The economics of the global food crisis.