Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has broken a two-week official silence over the Israeli air strike on Syria, acknowledging for the first time that it was a government operation and hinting that it was a major success.
“I was privy to the matter from the outset and I gave my backing,” he told Israeli television on Wednesday. “But it's too early to be discussing this.”
Asked if he had congratulated Prime Minister Ehud Olmert once the mission was over, the conservative leader said: “In person? Yes.”
Netanyahu shed no new light on the targets the Israeli F-15-I jets took out, which remains a tightly-held secret.
Speculation in the Israeli and the U.S. media has focused on a suspect shipment from North Korea, possibly of nuclear-related material - that arrived in Syria just days before the Israeli Air Force struck in the early morning hours of Sept. 6.
But now Janes Defense Weekly is reporting that a military accident that occurred on July 26 near Aleppo, in northern Syria, may be related to the Israeli strike.
Missile Test or Accident?
The incident was initially reported in the official Syrian news agency, SANA, on July 26.
The official report said an explosion occurred at an ordnance depot belonging to a Syrian military unit in Musalmiya, located about 7 miles from Aleppo, that killed at least 15 soldiers and wounded 50 others.
SANA claimed that outdoor temperatures of 113 degrees were responsible for the blast, even though it occurred at 4 AM, the coolest time of the day.
Janes now claims that the explosion occurred at a chemical weapons plant during tests to mate a chemical warhead to a SCUD C missile.
The SCUD C, initially sold to Syria by North Korea in 1991, has a range of 500 kilometers (300 miles), bringing all of Israel into reach. Its 700 kilogram warhead could accommodate a nuclear warhead.
Syria last test-fired its SCUD missiles on May 27, 2005 from an air force base at Minakh, north of Aleppo, according to Global Security.org.
The September 26 edition of the weekly says that fuel caught fire in a missile production laboratory, and “dispersed chemical agents [including VX and sarin nerve agents and mustard blister agent] across the storage facility and outside.”
Quoting Syrian defense sources, Janes said that “dozens” of Iranian missile engineers were killed during the accident, and that others were “seriously injured with chemical burns to exposed body parts not protected by safety overalls.”
While Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Iran did sign the 1989 treaty banning chemical weapons use or development.
Chemical and Biological Weapons
“If this incident is confirmed, it would be a serious violation of their obligations and a matter that the [treaty organization] would want to investigate,” a State Department official told Newsmax.
The Executive Council of the CWC holds its next meeting in The Hague starting on Sept. 25. “This incident is not just a concern for the United States but for all parties to the Treaty,” the official said.
The United States has known for nearly two decades that Syria has built chemical weapons (CW) plants, and has expressed concerns over biological weapons (BW) development as well.
The site of the reported accident – Aleppo – has also been identified as the site of a chemical weapons facility built under the auspices of the Syrian Scientific Research Center, a procurement agency placed under U.S. and European sanctions in the 1990s because of its involvement in weapons of mass destruction programs.
However, Iranian military sources told Newsmax that the July 26 accident in Syria “was not connected to chemical weapons,” but involved a convoy of Iranian Revolutionary Guards trucks that were transferring katyusha rockets to a Syrian military base, where they were to be turned over to Hezbollah for use in Lebanon.
Five Revolutionary Guardsmen and 7 Syrian soldiers died in the incident, the Iranian sources said.
According to the opposition Reform Party of Syria, the explosion may have been caused by sabotage.
Nuclear Ambition a Puzzler
The possibility that Syria has now launched a nuclear weapons effort has got U.S. government experts scratching their heads.
“We’d always thought that CW and BW would be sufficient, given that Syria seems to be concerned with Israel and given the high cost of development nuclear weapons,” one official said.
Media reports in Israel and the United States have speculated that North Korea may have sold Syria nuclear weapons material – and possibly a nuclear warhead – thus prompting Israel to launch the strike.
“North Korea could simply be seeking to earn money before its facilities are dismantled” under the disarmament agreement reached with the United States, one official speculated. “Or Syria could have agreed to stockpile equipment or material for them until some later date.”
President Bush warned North Korea during his press conference on Thursday not to engage in onward proliferation.
“We have made it clear, and will continue to make it clear to the North Koreans through the six-party talks that we expect them to honor their commitment to give up weapons and weapons programs, and to the extent that they are proliferating, we expect them to stop that proliferation, if they want the six-party talks to be successful,” Bush said.
What actually happened during the September 6 Israeli air strike on Syria remains a closely guarded secret.
A senior U.S. government official told Newsmax that he had been “fully briefed” on the Israeli operation, but because the president had ordered a clamp down he could not describe what had happened.
“If I were to tell you, I’d go to jail,” he said.
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