Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Inside Israel's Secret Raid On Syria's North Korean Nuclear Reactor


politico |  Even if President Donald Trump is able to reach an agreement with Kim Jong Un, with North Korea promising to freeze or even dismantle its nuclear program, there will always be uncertainty about possible cheating.

Just ask Israel—which, despite having one of the world’s most competent and aggressive intelligence services, the Mossad—nearly missed the fact that North Korea was helping build a nuclear reactor in next-door Syria, a country long viewed by Israel as a dangerous threat.

The American CIA missed it, too, and now, 11 years after Israeli air force jets bombed the clandestine Syrian facility, Israel’s military censor is finally lifting the veil of secrecy and permitting locally based reporters to publish interviews with participants in the operation for the first time. We spoke with dozens of former cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as military and intelligence chiefs and commanders and even some of the pilots who took part in the operation. The codename for the Sept. 6, 2007, raid, conducted near the remote desert city of Deir ez-Zur: “Outside the Box.” Before today, Israel has never officially acknowledged its existence.

Years later, Israeli spooks are still raising bitter questions about the CIA’s intelligence failure. Former Mossad director Tamir Pardo asked in an interview with us: “Where were the Americans? North Korea is a highly important target for them. And it still isn’t clear whether [Syrian President Bashar] Assad was running the nuclear project, or was it the North Koreans?” The former spy chief added that he has some doubts that Syria was going to keep the plutonium, or perhaps it was going to be shipped to North Korea as a supply of which the West would be unaware. “This is a resounding failure by the Americans,” Pardo said.

Pardo’s questions raise another: If one of the best intelligence communities in the world, and certainly the most formidable in the Middle East, could be fooled by North Koreans and Syrians, what might the CIA be missing? That could be true in Korea, in Iran, or almost anywhere on Earth.

The Israeli air force raid on a secluded, unmarked building in northeastern Syria took place—a few minutes after midnight between 5th and 6th of September. To attack deep in enemy territory is easy, but Israel’s American-made F-15 and F-16 jets enjoyed protection by sophisticated electronic jamming that blinded Syria’s air defenses, and they had no trouble dropping tons of explosives on the target and confirming visually that it had been flattened. (Photos, many provided by Israeli intelligence, were released by the CIA to Congress – and immediately leaked to the media in Washington.) 

The Syrian facility was almost identical to the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea that produced plutonium for nuclear bombs, according to Israeli intelligence officials, and it was only weeks away from beginning to produce highly radioactive materials.