Watch the talking point congeal in paragraph two.

The mystery surrounding the construction of what might have been a nuclear reactor in Syria deepened Friday, when a company released a satellite photo showing that the main building was well under way in September 2003 — four years before Israeli jets bombed it.

The long genesis is likely to raise questions about whether the Bush administration overlooked a nascent atomic threat in Syria while planning and executing a war in Iraq, which was later found to have no active nuclear program.

A senior American intelligence official said Friday that American analysts had looked carefully at the site from its early days, but were unsure then whether it posed a nuclear threat…

The senior intelligence official said that American spy satellites and analysts had, in fact, watched the site for years.

“It was noticed, without knowing what it was,” the official said. “You revisit every so often, but it was not a high priority. You see things that raise the flag and you know you have to keep looking. It was a case of watching it evolve.”

Why did Israel hit the reactor now if they were comfortable enough with it for four years? The likely answer lies in this WaPo report from a few days after the airstrike. To borrow a phrase, strange things were afoot at the Circle K:

[A] prominent U.S. expert on the Middle East, who has interviewed Israeli participants in a mysterious raid over Syria last week, reported that the attack appears to have been linked to the arrival three days earlier of a ship carrying material from North Korea labeled as cement…

The expert said it is not clear what the ship was carrying, but the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment. The ship arrived Sept. 3 in the Syrian port of Tartus; the attack occurred Sept. 6 under such strict operational security that the pilots flying air cover for the attack aircraft did not know details of the mission. The pilots who conducted the attack were briefed only after they were in the air, he said.

Sounds like, with the shell of the reactor already long in place, they were finally ready to take “the next step,” forced perhaps by the fact that North Korea had made a deal with the west to denuclearize and needed to unload some of its infrastructure. What’s less clear is why Israel would attack now instead of later. Whatever it is that North Korea delivered, it surely wasn’t a functioning reactor-in-a-box; it would have taken a few years, at least, to get it up and running. The fact that Israel moved on it now may be a sign that Israeli intelligence thinks Iran’s closer to having a bomb than expected and that a shot across the bow is sorely needed. If you believe Strategy Page, that warning shot served its purpose: all your (air warning) base are belong to us.