It has been widely speculated that the structure in northern Syria attacked by Israel’s Air Force ten weeks ago was a fledgling nuclear reactor, along the lines of the one operating in North Korea. Now Professor Uzi Even, a senior chemist at Tel Aviv University, with a background in nuclear research, has come to challenge that theory. His challenge is based on a number of factors, most notably that if the structure were a reactor, it would be so far away from completion (no cooling towers yet, for example) as to call into question the need for an Israeli strike. His views are aired in a Haaretz op-ed by Yossi Melman.
Instead, Even proposes that the structure was something far more ominous: A processing plant for plutonium, for the purpose of creating a bomb. In other words, instead of needing a plant to make plutonium, they already may have it. Speculation? Perhaps. But it may explain the extreme veil of secrecy that both the Bush administration and the Israeli government continue to place over the entire affair. Melman quotes U.S. Representatives Peter Hoekstra and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, respectively the senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as being troubled by the fact that the administration
has thrown an unprecedented veil of secrecy around the Israeli air strike. It has briefed only a handful of very senior members of Congress, leaving the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligence committee members in the dark. We are among the very few who were briefed, but we have been sworn to secrecy on this matter.
From what my own friends tell me of the Israeli strike, this was one of the most impressive and complex Israeli operations in decades. Whether it was a reactor or a plutonium processing plant, the West may owe Israel an even greater debt than it did with the Osiraq strike in 1981—which kept Saddam from getting the bomb. So can we please stop “engaging” Syria now?