Already under fire for murderous assaults against his own people, Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime may face censure by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for illicit nuclear activities.
In a May 24 report to the agency's board of governors, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano referred to a building destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in a Sept. 6, 2007 raid. Amano said the IAEA "concludes that the destroyed building was very likely a nuclear reactor and should have been declared by Syria."
Amano's finding puts Syria in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As a signatory to the NPT, Syria is barred from developing atomic weapons.
Like its longtime ally Iran, Syria could soon find itself in the dock for flouting the NPT. Next week, the IAEA board of governors may formally declare Syria in noncompliance with the treaty, putting the question before the United Nations Security Council and potentially resulting in sanctions.
The IAEA's record in dealing with the subject is decidedly mixed. Bennett Ramberg, a Bush Administration State Department official, writes that IAEA inspectors did fine work in eventually thwarting a large-scale cover up by Damascus.
But for close to a decade, the IAEA was asleep at the switch. First, the agency failed to detect construction of a Syrian plant designed and engineered by North Korea. Even today, the IAEA doesn't know whether Syria has a secret reprocessing facility to extract plutonium for weapons or if it intended to export the spent fuel to North Korea for reprocessing.
The IAEA was slow to investigate evidence of Syrian cheating. For months, IAEA Director-General Mohammed El-Baradei ignored media reports that Syria built the reactor and claimed that governments failed to provide the IAEA with information. "By the time the agency began its investigation in mid-2008, Syria had demolished the remnants of the plant, carted away the debris and built a new non-nuclear structure to conceal evidence of the old," Ramberg writes.
El-Baradei also blasted Israel for destroying the Syrian site before notifying the IAEA. But in reality, "the agency's reputation for timidity prompted Israel's attack. After years of watching the IAEA fret with Iran, Israel had no confidence the agency would forcefully deal with Syria."
Had Israel not acted, the Syrian regime brutalizing its people today might have atomic weapons in its arsenal.
Read more about Syria's nuclear efforts here.