Sunday, September 23, 2007

Report: IDF raid seized nuclear material before Syria air strike

By Haaretz Service

Israel Defense Forces commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a raid on a secret military site in Syria before the Israel Air Force allegedly bombed it this month, British newspaper The Sunday Times reported Sunday.

The report, based on what the newspaper called "informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem," said the air strike was carried out with United States approval after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related.

The paper quoted Israeli sources as saying Israeli special forces had been gathering intelligence for several months in Syria, and had located the nuclear material at a compound in the country's north.

In another report, Newsweek quoted Uzi Arad, a former senior Mossad official and ex-policy advisor to then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as saying of the reported operation: I do know what happened, and when it comes out, it will stun everyone."

Netanyahu stirred anger among aides to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week when he appeared to confirm reports of the operation - about which Israeli officials have maintained a rare silence - during an interview with Israel Channel One Television.

The Sunday Times reported that diplomats in North Korea and China believe a number of North Koreans were killed in the strike, based on reports reaching Asian governments about conversations between Chinese and North Korean officials. The officials noted that ballistic missile technicians and military scientists had been working for some time with the Syrians.

According to the report, the Bush Administration was given Israeli intelligence suggesting North Korean personnel and nuclear-related material were at the Syrian site over the summer, but the administration demanded "clear evidence of nuclear-related activities before giving the operation its blessing."

As a result, the newspaper said, IDF commandos "almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms" seized samples of the nuclear material and took them back to Israel for testing. The sources confirmed that the samples were identified as being from North Korea.

According to the Sunday Times, the site - near Dayr az-Zawr - now lies in ruins following the IAF strike.

The report said the operation was personally directed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who according to The Sunday Times is said to have been largely preoccupied with it since taking up his post on June 18. The newspaper quoted military experts as saying that the operation probably could not have taken place under former defense minister Amir Peretz.

Syria has said IAF planes violated its airspace and fired missiles at targets on the ground, but both Damascus and Pyongyang have vehemently denied the reports of nuclear cooperation.

The Sunday Times also quoted an Israeli intelligence expert as saying, "Syria has retaliated in the past for much smaller humiliations, but they will choose the place, the time and the target."

The IAF dispatched several fighter jets toward Syria Saturday, after a Syrian airplane disappeared from the Israeli radar screens, army sources said.

The jets returned to base after they ascertained that the Syrian plane had crashed.

Barak: Israel must operate as though war is around the corner
Israel must act as though the next war is right around the corner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday at the state's official commemoration of soldiers killed in the Yom Kippur War.

Barak said that the lesson from the 1973 war is that "on security matters, we cannot be deceived by apparent and imagined calm. We need self-control, vigilance, and an experienced and stable hand at the helm."

The defense minister also said that "on matters pertaining to our national security, the strength of Israel must be alert and fit at all times. We must always cultivate and enhance the decisive and quality advantage of this strength, along with the warrior spirit and the tools of war."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday morning during a cabinet meeting that the "security establishment operates incessantly in all sectors and brings the most successful of achievements.

"Many times, these achievements are not exposed to the public, but this doesn't mean that successful operations are not carried out."

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