DAILY MAIL : Tuesday 18 September
From Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
ISRAEL destroyed a fledgling Syrian nuclear weapons system in an air
raid 12 days ago, it was claimed last night.
The suggestion fuelled speculation that the air strike on a remote
area of northern Syria wiped out a secret nuclear programme
established with North Korean equipment.
John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told
Israeli television: 'I think it would be unusual for Israel to conduct
a military operation inside Syria other than for a very high value
target, and certainly a Syrian effort in the nuclear weapons area
He added: 'I think this is a clear message not only to Syria. I think
it's a clear message to Iran as well that its continued efforts to
acquire nuclear weapons are not going to go unanswered.'
Israel imposed a rare news blackout after the raid.
But Syria claimed Israeli warplanes were forced to drop their
munitions and fuel harmlessly in the desert after coming under
Syria has also protested to Israel about the breach of its airspace
and threatened to retaliate.
In a marked escalation of the crisis last night, Iran reportedly
threatened to rally to Syria's defence if its Arab ally is attacked by
either by Israel or the U.S.
Israeli radio claimed a Persian-language website had suggested Iran
has 600 Shihab-3 missiles that it will launch at Israel on the first
day Iran or Syria is attacked.
With a possible range of up to 1,260 miles, the Shihab-3 could reach
all of Israel, including its nuclear reactor in the south. The website
also said that Iran would launch up to 15 missiles at U.S. targets
inside Iraq if either Iran or Syria is attacked.
The air raid came amid heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear
ambitions and fears that another country in the Middle East may be
aligning itself with North Korea over an atomic programme.
Syria continues to host Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other deadly terror
groups in its capital Damascus.
It has also been accused of allowing Iran to ship huge amounts of
military hardware across its territory to the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel has always made clear it will respond if attacked, perhaps with
its own, far superior nuclear capability.
The news blackout means Israeli newspapers have been forced to recycle
speculation from around the world.
One of the most common claims is that the target of the attack was a
shipment of nuclear weapons from North Korea bound for use by Syria or
possibly to be passed on to Hezbollah.
The Israeli daily newspaper Maariv quoted 'foreign reports' of a raid
by combined air and ground forces more than 200 miles inside Syrian
It suggested 'the operation carried out was one of the most dangerous
and brilliant in the history of the Israeli defence forces'.
Andrew Semmel, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear
non-proliferation, said Syria was on the country's nuclear 'watch
'There are indicators that they do have something going on there,' he added.
'We do know there are a number of foreign technicians that have been
in Syria. We do know that there may have been contact between Syria
and some secret suppliers for nuclear equipment.'
The few tight-lipped comments coming from Israeli leaders seemed,
however, to suggest that any danger was past – at least for now.
The raid is said to have involved a group of up to eight Israeli F-15
warplanes, which penetrated Syrian airspace before dawn on September
Two jettisoned fuel tanks were later discovered in Turkish territory.
It was the first Israeli raid into Syria since October 2003, when
Israeli jets attacked a terrorist training camp on the outskirts of
If it is confirmed that the air strike was to destroy a nuclear site
in Syria, it will evoke memories of Israel's 1981 raid on an Iraqi
nuclear reactor at Osiraq.
The facility was crippled in a surprise attack aimed at preventing
Saddam Hussein from acquiring the means to make nuclear weapons.