On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that American officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed that Israel had bombed one or more targets in Syria last Thursday. Jerusalem has not officially commented on the strikes, its first on Syria since 2003.
What exactly was Israel doing? The BBC suggested that Israeli pilots might have been testing Syrian air defenses. The Times reported that American officials said the most likely target was one or more conventional weapons caches. If so, Israel may have been targeting rockets on their way to Hizballah.
Yet the Times seems to suggest that the raid targeted a Syrian nuclear weapons program linked to Pyongyang. “The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” an unidentified Bush administration official, referring to fissile material, is quoted as saying. Thursday’s Washington Post states that an unidentified former Israeli official had been told that the attack on Syria was intended to take out a facility that could make unconventional weapons. The paper also reported that satellite imagery has revealed a Syrian facility that could be part of a nuclear weapons program. North Korea, known to merchandise any dangerous item it possesses, has been doing its best to appear guilty. Departing from its usual practice of not commenting on world affairs, Pyongyang on Tuesday denounced Israel’s raid.
Damascus undoubtedly has a nuclear weapons program, but at worst it is decades away from building a bomb on its own. Yet Iran is just years from mastering the techniques needed to construct an atomic device. If the raid last week had any significance, it was a warning to the theocrats in Tehran that Jerusalem is capable of another Osirak-type raid. And perhaps the air strikes were intended to send messages to European capitals and Washington as well: disarm Iran now or prepare for war. Syria’s U.N. ambassador said his country sustained no “material damage” in the Israeli raid. That may be true, but it is completely beside the point. Despite where the bombs landed on Thursday, Syrians were not the real target.