Tensions from Israeli Strike on Syrian Nuke Site
by Steven Emerson
October 15, 2007
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CONTESSA BREWER: Why is there so much secrecy surrounding last month's Israeli air strike inside Syria? Leaders from both nations acknowledge that it happened, but they won't say much else. In fact, remember President Bush during that news conference? He wouldn't say anything about it either. The New York Times reports that Israeli fighter jets did successfully strike a nuclear facility that was still under construction. Possibly Syria was getting help from North Korea.
Even if a Syrian installation was hit, was it Iran's nuclear program that was the real target? Let's bring in MSNBC military analyst Retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey and terrorism expert Steve Emerson. Nice to see you both today.
General, let me begin with you. Would it be possible that the United States sees what Israel did, supports it, in order to send a message to Iran?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY: I sure hope not. You know, I think the Israelis had a different context. Their survival is directly at stake. I think probably hitting that site was a good signal to the Syrians they won't tolerate a nuclear program that close. In terms of our relations with the Iranians, I think it would be unadulterated foolishness to think that a direct military strike, or one we tolerated by the Israelis against Iran couldn't achieve the same results and would probably invite retaliation that we wouldn't like, such as closing the Persian Gulf. So not a lot to be learned in terms of U.S. policy toward Iran.
BREWER: Syria, Steve, has signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but it is allowed to pursue nuclear technology in order to get electricity. So isn't a strike against a nuclear facility inside Syria, will that just contribute to more instability broadly throughout the Middle East?
STEVEN EMERSON: Well, probably not, actually, because as you noted, the whole strike was conducted in total silence, not one peep out of the Arab world even protested, because they realize that a nuclearized Syria is much more of a danger than anyone could imagine. So there's a real incentive to keep these weapons out of Syria's hands on the part of the Israelis, as Barry pointed out, because of their survival, but also because of the concern for the security of the Arab states. I think Israel's preemptive strike, you know, was totally justified and – but I'd also say there's a message there for Iran, not that it could be replicated, because the sites are much more dispersed and subterranean.
BREWER: So General, why keep it a secret then? If they were really gonna take out any sort of nuclear capabilities that Syria might be pursuing, why keep that a secret?
MCCAFFREY: I imagine there are two pieces to it, Contessa. First of all, I don't think anybody wanted to explicitly acknowledge the intelligence upon which that strike was based. Hard to imagine what sources and methods were involved. Then I think the second aspect was the Israelis are trying to signal the leadership of the Syrian regime, not create a position in which they felt their honor was at stake and they'd have to retaliate. So that's why the absolute lockdown on comments on most everybody involved in this. As Steve Emerson correctly points out, the other Arab nations – the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Saudis, et cetera, will be ill served by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
BREWER: And in fact, the only other country that we saw make a protest about this other than Syria, was North Korea. Apparently The New York Times says this particular nuclear site was modeled on North Korean reactors. Is there a problem here in terms of the cooperation between the North Koreans and the Syrians, Steve?
EMERSON: Well I think there is. And one of the other problems, alongside, is how this got suddenly – was uncaught by the United States. I mean the fact is the United States has great surveillance capabilities, and they didn't see this nuclear facility being built. And the question has to arise is – why? And therefore, the question then arises – well, if they didn't see this, what else do we not know about what's going on there?
BREWER: Steve Emerson, General McCaffrey, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you.