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Jewish World Review
Sept. 26, 2007
/ 14 Tishrei 5768
The curious incident in Syria: A nuclear mystery
In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "Silver Blaze," Sherlock Holmes makes his famous observation about the dog that did not bark in the night.
"That was the curious incident," Holmes tells a Scotland Yard detective. Its silence was a telltale clue.
Something significant happened just after midnight on Sept. 6, deep in Syria's eastern desert. We don't know and may not know for a long time what exactly transpired. But, as in the Holmes tale, the silence of some and barking of other diplomatic hounds provide crucial evidence.
After the sun rose, the Syrian government issued a statement accusing Israeli warplanes of violating its airspace. The sparse statement said the jets had "dropped munitions" and that air defenses had chased away the invaders. An Israeli Cabinet minister confirmed only that Israeli planes had indeed violated Syrian airspace.
That might have been the end of the story. The Israeli military regularly sends supersonic signals to the Syrian dictatorship. During a particularly tense period in June 2006, Israeli jets buzzed the summer palace of President Bashar Assad, setting off sonic booms. The message: If terrorists you support strike at Israel, we can strike at you ... personally.
But after the ho-hum Syrian statement and the low-key Israeli acknowledgment, something curious happened. North Korea unexpectedly condemned the Israeli incursion.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry issued a statement that "strongly denounces the above-said intrusion and extends full support and solidarity to the Syrian people in their just cause to defend the national security and the regional peace."
Huh? Who asked?
Then the Turkish government issued a complaint when discarded Israeli fuel tanks were found near its border with Syria hundreds of miles away from the Israeli-Syrian frontier and hundreds of miles away from southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah's Syrian-supplied weapons threaten northern Israel.
How much farther might the jets have ranged from Syria's northern border with external fuel tanks? And what were they doing there?
Some answers came from the Sunday Times of London on Sept. 16. After 10 days of silence, Israeli sources disclosed off the record that the planes and a commando team had struck a top-secret Syrian nuclear weapons facility.
Syria's chemical and biological weapons capability and shared missile technology with Iran are well known. But a nuclear capability is a new and ominous wrinkle, as is the implication that North Korea is an integral part of the program.
If the reports are even partially accurate, then the Israeli raid ranks with the rescue at Entebbe and the destruction of Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor as one of the most audacious in modern military history.
Why wouldn't the Syrians denounce the Israeli attack deep in their territory in the strongest terms, as their North Korean allies did, and show the world the destructive evidence of Zionist aggression? They wouldn't if doing so would require them to disclose the existence of an illicit nuclear weapons program or if it revealed the incompetence of the Syrian military on which the Assad dictatorship rests.
Why would the Israelis be tight-lipped about such a triumph? The Osirak strike in 1981 earned Israel the condemnation of the international community. Even the United States joined a U.N. Security Council resolution to censure Israel an appeasement of Arab sentiment that U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Secretary of State George Schultz later regretted.
The Middle East would be a far more dangerous place, the response to the 1991 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait would have been far different, if Saddam had been allowed to develop nuclear weapons. A decade from now, the world may once again belatedly thank Israel for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of another Middle Eastern despot.
Israel doesn't mind quietly doing the world's dirty work when its existence is at stake. It can, however, do without the international community's blaring hypocrisy.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department.
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