From a new Wikileaks cable, dated April 25, 2008:
- You will recall reports that the Israeli air force conducted a mission over Syria on September 6, 2007.
- I want to inform you that the purpose of that Israeli mission was to destroy a clandestine nuclear reactor that Syria was constructing in its eastern desert near a place we call al-Kibar.
- The Israeli mission was successful - the reactor was damaged beyond repair. Syria has completed efforts to clean up the site and destroy evidence of what was really there, constructing a new building on the old site.
- We have delayed sharing this information with you, because our first concern was to prevent conflict.
- We believe - based on strong evidence - that North Korea assisted Syria with the reactor at al-Kibar.
- Our intelligence experts are confident that the facility the Israelis targeted was in fact a nuclear reactor of the same type North Korea built indigenously at its Yongbyon nuclear facility. The U.S. intelligence community conducted an intensive, months- long effort to confirm and corroborate the information Israel provided us on the reactor and to gather more
details from our own sources and methods.
- We have good reason to believe this reactor was not intended for peaceful purposes.
- First, we assess this reactor was configured to produce plutonium: it was not configured for power production, was isolated from any civilian population, and was ill-suited for research.
- Second, Syria went to great pains to keep this secret by taking very careful steps to conceal the true nature of the site.
- Third, by maintaining secrecy and not declaring the site to the IAEA and providing design information, as Syria's NPT-mandated IAEA safeguards agreement requires, Syria undermined the very purpose of IAEA safeguards - to provide the international community with the necessary assurance/verification that the reactor was part of a peaceful program.
- Finally, Syria's concealment and lies about what happened for months now after the Israeli air strike is compelling proof that it has something to hide. In fact, after the attack on the site, Syria went to great lengths to clean up the site and destroy evidence of what was really there. If there were nothing to hide, Syria presumably would have invited IAEA inspectors, other experts, and the news media to the site to prove that.
...- The existence of this reactor was dangerous and destabilizing for the region, and we judged that it could have been only weeks away from becoming operational at the time it was destroyed by the Israeli air force.
- Specifically, we assessed that once the pumphouse and pipe system were complete in early August, the reactor could begin operation at any time. Once operations began, certainly a military option would have been much more problematic with radioactive material present.
- We discussed policy options with the Israelis, but in the end Israel made its own decision to destroy the reactor. This decision was made by Israel alone - they did not seek our consent. Nonetheless, we understand Israel's decision.
- <> saw this reactor, and what Syria may have intended to do with it, as an existential threat that required it to act to defend itself.
- Syria's secret construction of this nuclear reactor is the latest in a series of unacceptable actions by the Asad regime.
- Syria is a state that supports terrorism, destabilizes Lebanon, and is the largest conduit for foreign fighters and suicide bombers entering Iraq to kill Iraqis, Americans, and Coalition forces.
- The Syrian Government supports terrorist groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizballah, and others, including by playing host to leaders of some of these groups.
- Syria is a proliferator in every sense - of terrorism, of instability to its neighbors, including Lebanon, and now as a recipient and developer of dangerous nuclear technology.
- The Syrian regime, in going down this path, has shown a disregard for the security of the region and of its own people.
- We call upon the Syrian regime to reveal the full extent of its nuclear activities, as it is required to do under the NPT and its safeguards agreement, and verify that its covert nuclear-related activities have stopped.
- For better relations with the international community, in addition to full disclosure and
cooperation regarding its covert nuclear program, Syria needs to end support for insurgents and foreign fighters in Iraq, support for Palestinian terrorists, and interference in Lebanon. If willing to do so, Syria can expect to be welcomed by the international community.
I wonder what happened between 2008 and 2009 that prompted the US to ignore all this known information about the country and reward it with a new ambassador.
Or, as David Shenker notes in TNR,
Support for the regime goes beyond the standard “devil you know” rationale. To wit, one commentator in The National Interest recently opined that “Washington knows [Syrian President] Bashar well and it knows how rational and predictable he is in foreign affairs.” No doubt, Assad hasn’t killed millions like Stalin. But he has spent his first decade in power recklessly dedicated to undermining stability—and U.S. interests—in the Middle East.
Here’s the devil we know: Since 2006 alone, Assad’s Syria has exponentially increased the capabilities of the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, providing the organization with advanced anti-ship and highly accurate M-600 missiles, top of the line anti-tank weapons, and has allowed the organization to establish a SCUD base on Syrian soil. At the same time, Assad continues to meddle (and murder) in Lebanon, harbor and support Hamas, and subvert Iraq. Damascus remains a strategic ally of otherwise isolated Tehran. And in 2007, it was revealed that Assad’s Syria was progressing toward building a nuclear weapon. Given the pernicious effect of Assad’s policies on U.S. interests and the region, it’s difficult to imagine that a successor or replacement regime could be worse.