Report: Eight IAF warplanes hit Syria
By Haaretz Correspondents and Agencies
Syria had been planning a "devastating surprise" for Israel, according to an Israeli source quoted in the London-based Sunday Times. The report also claimed that Israeli ground forces were involved in an Israel Air Force air raid against a Syrian installation, which foreign sources described as a nuclear facility.
According to the British weekly, the Israeli source said that planning for the strike began shortly after Mossad chief Meir Dagan presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in late spring, with evidence that Syria was seeking to acquire a nuclear device from North Korea.
Dagan apparently feared such a device could eventually be installed on Scud-C missiles in Syria's arsenal.
"This was supposed to be a devastating Syrian surprise for Israel," The Times quoted an Israeli source as saying. "We've known for a long time that Syria has deadly chemical warheads on its Scuds, but Israel can't live with a nuclear warhead."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Sunday that a senior North Korean official denied a Washington Post report that Pyongyang was transferring nuclear know-how to Syria. The report in the Washington Post suggested intelligence, including satellite images, revealed a facility in Syria which may be used to build nuclear warheads.
"They often say things that are groundless," Yonhap quoted deputy chief of the North Korean mission to the United Nations Kim Myong-gil as saying in response to the Post report. The North Korean official did not elaborate.
Another British newspaper, The Observer, reported yesterday that Israel's air strike, involved as many as eight aircraft.
According to the Times report, an IAF commando team that had arrived on the ground days earlier directed laser beams at the target for the jets.
Syria's ambassador to Washington denied foreign media reports over the weekend that an Israel Air Force strike on his country 11 days ago targeted a nuclear project being undertaken with the cooperation of North Korea.
According to the foreign press reports, the target of the IAF raid was a Syrian nuclear installation constructed in the northeastern corner of the country, with North Korean assistance.
In an interview to Newsweek, Imad Moustapha called the reports "absolutely, totally, fundamentally ridiculous and untrue."
"There are no nuclear North Korean-Syrian facilities whatsoever in Syria," Moustapha said.
In an article Saturday, The Washington Post argued that the IAF strike aimed at a shipment that had arrived in Syria aboard a North Korean vessel three days earlier, and may have included equipment and materials related to nuclear technology.
North Korea is widely thought to sell conventional weapons to Syria though analysts say its armaments trade in general has been hit hard by tough sanctions since the reclusive state nearly a year ago tested its first nuclear device.
Pyongyang agreed earlier this year to start dismantling its nuclear facilities, and source of weapons-grade plutonium, in return for massive aid. More recently, the United States has held out the possibility of normalizing ties if the ostracized North Korea completely scraps its nuclear weapons program.
On Friday, the lead U.S. negotiator with North Korea declined to confirm the Syria reports but said they underscored the need for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs.
The United States is keeping close watch on Syria and North Korea, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday, commenting on the possible nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
"I think it would be a real problem," he said when asked how the Bush administration would view such an effort.
Meanwhile, senior Israeli officials remained tight lipped about the whole affair.
During yesterday's briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee by Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin, the general was cautioned by the committee chair, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, not to discuss the reports of the IAF strike in Syria.
In his briefing, Yadlin told the committee that Israel has restored its deterrence capabilities since the Second Lebanon War last summer.
The MI chief also said that Israel's deterrent power would have an effect on the entire region, including Syria and Iran.
However, Yadlin also warned that Iran's plans for acquiring nuclear weapons and for elevating its strategic status to that of a regional power, remain unchanged.
"Iran apparently has no basic intention to change the objective of its nuclear project, [and] has begun to speak overtly on the matter," Yadlin told the committee.
"Iran has a few messages to the world, and the first is that it has crossed the threshold and knows how to make nuclear devices. The second message is that the West won't be able to halt its project with sanctions. The third is that the price of confrontation with Iran is very high and that it has means of deterrence - both militaristic and terror-based," Yadlin said.
He added that the sanctions imposed on Iran "are mainly economic sanctions and are not having much of an effect."