Snatched: Israeli commandos “nuclear raid”

The Times UK reports on the Syrian/North Korea nuclear program are getting more detailed:

ISRAELI commandos from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit “almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms” made their way stealthily towards a secret military compound near Dayr az-Zawr in northern Syria. They were looking for proof that Syria and North Korea were collaborating on a nuclear programme.

Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources. President George W Bush was told during the summer that Israeli intelligence suggested North Korean personnel and nuclear-related material were at the Syrian site.

Israel was determined not to take any chances with its neighbour. Following the example set by its raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak 1981, it drew up plans to bomb the Syrian compound.

But Washington was not satisfied. It demanded clear evidence of nuclear-related activities before giving the operation its blessing. The task of the commandos was to provide it.

Today the site near Dayr az-Zawr lies in ruins after it was pounded by Israeli F15Is on September 6. Before the Israelis issued the order to strike, the commandos had secretly seized samples of nuclear material and taken them back into Israel for examination by scientists, the sources say. A laboratory confirmed that the unspecified material was North Korean in origin. America approved an attack.

News of the secret ground raid is the latest piece of the jigsaw to emerge about the mysterious Israeli airstrike. Israel has imposed a news blackout, but has not disguised its satisfaction with the mission. The incident also reveals the extent of the cooperation between America and Israel over nuclear-related security issues in the Middle East. The attack on what Israeli defence sources now call the “North Korean project” appears to be part of a wider, secret war against the nonconventional weapons ambitions of Syria and North Korea which, along with Iran, appears to have been forging a new “axis of evil”.

The operation was personally directed by Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, who is said to have been largely preoccupied with it since taking up his post on June 18.

It was the ideal mission for Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier and legendary former commander of the Sayeret Matkal, which shares the motto “Who Dares Wins” with Britain’s SAS and specialises in intelligence-gathering deep behind enemy lines.

President Bush refused to comment on the air attack last week, but warned North Korea that “the exportation of information and/or materials” could jeopard-ise plans to give North Korea food aid, fuel and diplomatic recognition in exchange for ending its nuclear programmes.

Diplomats in North Korea and China said they believed a number of North Koreans were killed in the raid, noting that ballistic missile technicians and military scientists had been working for some time with the Syrians.

A senior Syrian official, Sayeed Elias Daoud, director of the Syrian Arab Ba’ath party, flew to North Korea via Beijing last Thursday, reinforcing the belief among foreign diplomats that the two nations are coordinating their response to the Israeli strike.

The growing assumption that North Korea suffered direct casualties in the raid appears to be based largely on the regime’s unusually strident propaganda on an issue far from home. But there were also indications of conversations between Chinese and North Korean officials and intelligence reports reaching Asian governments that supported the same conclusion, diplomats said.

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported last week that dozens of Iranian engineers and Syrians were killed in July attempting to load a chemical warhead containing mustard gas onto a Scud missile. The Scuds and warheads are of North Korean design and possibly manufacture, and there are recent reports that North Koreans were helping the Syrians to attach airburst chemical weapons to warheads.

…The unusual silence about the airstrikes amazed Israelis, who are used to talkative politicians. But it did not surprise the defence community. “Most Israeli special operations remain unknown,” said a defence source.

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