Grain of salt: one of the co-authors of this piece once reported that Israel was working on a bioweapon that would affect Arab genes only. He’s on firmer ground with today’s story but when you float something like that it’s part of your record forever. Consider yourselves warned.

Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem…

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean. This raised fears that Syria might have joined North Korea and Iran in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Israeli special forces had been gathering intelligence for several months in Syria, according to Israeli sources. They located the nuclear material at a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in the north.

There were rumors of ground forces being involved in the air raid itself but the only intel about nuclear material at the site that I’ve heard of is satellite imagery of northern Syria. It’s suspicious that we’re only hearing about a gun as smoking as this one now, or hearing about it at all, really: if it’s true then the details must be known to a very select few people in the American and Israeli governments, but both governments have taken great pains to avoid talking about the details lest it force Syria into a response and queer the North Korean denuclearization process. So why would some of those select few people choose to leak something as incendiary as this now, after working so hard to suppress the information? The only thing I can think of is that maybe they think Syria’s planning to respond anyway and they want this out there and on the record in case war breaks out and the old doubts about phantom WMDs as a pretext for hostilities resurface.

Exit question: If it’s true, how did the Israelis access what must have been a very closely guarded compound and escape with nuke material without Syria knowing? And if Syria did know, or suspected, that they’d done so, why on earth did they keep shipping material in there instead of moving the nuclear storehouse somewhere else?

Update: More from the Times of London. Not surprisingly they claim it was Sayerat Matkal who carried out the seizure of nuclear material based on a plan by SM vet and current Defense minister Ehud Barak. But some mysteries remain:

But details of the raid are still tantalisingly incomplete. Some analysts in America are perplexed by photographs of a fuel tank said to have been dropped from an Israeli jet on its return journey over Turkey. It appears to be relatively undamaged. Could it have been planted to sow confusion about the route taken by the Israeli F-15I pilots?

More importantly, questions remain about the precise nature of the material seized and about Syria’s intentions. Was Syria hiding North Korean nuclear equipment while Pyongyang prepared for six-party talks aimed at securing an end to its nuclear weapons programme in return for security guarantees and aid? Did Syria want to arm its own Scuds with a nuclear device?

Tags: Israel