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It Really Was a Nuclear Site

It seems that there is finally some closure about that Israeli airstrike on Syria in September, 2007. The headline of this story should remove all but the most improbable doubt:

IAEA found uranium traces at alleged Syrian nuclear site

As UN nuclear watchdog agency prepares to write final draft of report on alleged Syrian reactor, diplomats indicate enriched uranium found at al-Kibar site bombed by Israel in 2007.

It is time for some recriminations. Many of the liberal leaders of the national-security establishment in Washington made grand pronouncements after the Israeli strike assuring the impossibility of a Syrian nuclear program. Seymour Hersh spent three months snooping around Washington, Israel, and Damascus trying to find evidence that the attack was unwarranted. He didn’t find anything very useful, so instead he quoted the aforementioned national-security liberals articulating what he was unable to get on the record.

The resulting piece was full of disparaging skepticism. Hersh was sure the Israelis had no idea what they bombed.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the nuclear strategy and nonproliferation initiative at the New America Foundation, told Hersh of the target in Syria: “All you could see was a box…You couldn’t see enough to know how big it will be or what it will do. It’s just a box.” He also insisted that the proportions of the building Israel bombed made it impossible for use as a nuclear reactor [Update: this isn't an accurate reproduction of Lewis' position; I should have written that he said he didn't think the building could hold a Yongbyon-style reactor -- NP]. To be fair to Lewis, this spring he appears to have come around to the idea that the Syrians were up to no good at al-Kibar. But if so little was known in the weeks after the strike, why go on the record — especially with someone such as Hersh — with such emphatic declarations?

Joseph Cirincione, the director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, should not get off so lightly. He told Hersh that

“Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing. There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political.” Cirincione castigated the press corps for its handling of the story. “I think some of our best journalists were used,” he said.

In late September, 2007, Cirincione was quoted by the Foreign Policy blog casting even more scorn on anyone who thought that perhaps al-Kibar was a legitimate target:

There is no evidence that there was anything of nuclear significance in Syria. …This hasn’t stopped [John] Bolton, now with the full support of the [Washington] Post, from crying wolf again. … Any nuclear material—even after a bombing—would leave traces that IAEA inspectors could detect.

Mr. Cirincione certainly has been proven right on his final point.

So, the coterie which rails against the supposedly ideologically-driven nature of conservative foreign policy; its supposedly incessant need to find enemies to fight; its manipulation of intelligence; its dangerous embrace of military power; etc. — many of these same people appear to be guilty of the very crime they have been making such a racket about, only in reverse.


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