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What Happened in Syria?


Much of the blogosphere is astir with discussion of the Israeli strike into Syria. Initial speculation suggested that the attack targeted a Syrian weapons shipment to Hezbollah. According to this Times article, the strike was directed at a cache of nuclear materials that had recently been delivered to Syria from North Korea.

This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I understand that Syria would like to have nuclear weapons, but by no account does it have any of the infrastructure necessary to support the construction of such a weapon. I suppose that the North Koreans could have shipped a completed nuke to Syria, but that seems quite outlandish; North Korea is thought to have only a small handful of weapons, and it’s unclear that any of them work. Syria could have intended to cap a Scud with radioactive material in order to create a “dirty bomb”, but the dirty bomb is the single most over-hyped weapon of our age; it does no substantial damage, and any target can be scrubbed in short order. Unsurprisingly, the wingnutosphere went, well, nutty, with Captain Ed penning the following:

That’s also why the US had better start harking back to the Bush Doctrine on terror-supporting states. Israel has the right idea, and if we don’t stop nuclear arms from getting to terrorists, it won’t just be Tel Aviv that goes up in a mushroom cloud.

Of course, a sane person could detect the difference between an Osirak style strike and the invasion of Iraq, but this is what passes for strategic thought in Right Blogistan.

Fortunately, Jeffrey Lewis at ArmsControlWonk has supplied a much needed dose of quiet reason. Pointing out that there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Israelis struck a nuclear site, he traces how the story of such a strike has developed without noticeable empirical foundation. Blake Hounshell links to Joe Cirincione’s utter demolition of the story. It’s too good to excerpt, so read the whole thing. Brian Ulrich has some more at American Footprints, where he points out that the sources pushing the North Korea connection are the same folks who were opposed to the deal with North Korea. However, Ulrich also notes that the Times article linked above does seem to have some Israeli sources.

In any case, I’m still pretty skeptical. The sources that are suggesting a nuclear connection have incentive to lie and a history of deception. I don’t think the Syrians could do anything useful with nuclear material short of a bomb, and I’d be stunned if the North Koreans were willing to actually sell them a completed weapon. But we’ll see how the story develops.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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