Some clever soul used the info from this morning’s WaPo story about photographs of the reactor circulating among intel types to try to find it on Google Earth. With possible success: follow the link in Dan Riehl’s post and see for yourself. The description of a small, squarish, nondescript building conspicuously removed from the surrounding populated areas but near a river does roughly match.
Independent experts have pinpointed what they believe to be the Euphrates River site in Syria that was bombed by Israel last month, and satellite imagery of the area shows buildings under construction roughly similar in design to a North Korean reactor capable of producing nuclear material for one bomb a year, the experts say.
Photographs of the site taken before the secret Sept. 6 airstrike depict an isolated compound that includes a tall, boxy structure similar to the type of building used to house a gas-graphite reactor. They also show what could have been a pumping station used to supply cooling water for a reactor, say experts David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).
U.S. and international experts and officials familiar with the site, who were shown the photographs yesterday, said there was a strong and credible possibility that they depict the remote compound that was attacked.
The compound’s distance from populated areas was a key detail, since reactors are usually isolated from major urban populations.
The site is also close to an irrigated area, which would explain statements by some officials privy to details of the attack that the facility was located near orchards. A small airstrip about two miles away could have been used to transport personnel to the site.
Here’s a satellite image of one of North Korea’s suspected reactors from 2004. The actual reactor building is, I believe, the squarish structure in the center with the antenna on top. Dovish nuke experts make the obvious point that it’s hard to tell what the Syrian structure is from the air given how nondescript the shape of the North Korean design is. Israel reportedly wasn’t acting on satellite imagery alone, though; if you believe ABC News, they had a mole snapping pics inside the structure and if you believe the Times of London they even got away with seized samples of material. Meanwhile, per a story in yesterday’s WaPo, Syria has already begun dismantling the site in the wake of the airstrike. My favorite part comes when “the experts” pull their chins and try to figure out why Israel would have acted unilaterally instead of referring this matter to the nuclear agency that’s been loitering with Iran for the past five years and whose head is, in all likelihood, in Tehran’s pocket. Why, oh why?
While expressing concern over the prospect that Syria may have decided to launch a nuclear program in secret, some weapons experts question why neither Israel nor the United States made any effort before the secret attack — or in the six weeks since — to offer evidence to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a move that would trigger an inspection of Syria by the nuclear watchdog.
“The reason we have an IAEA and a safeguard system is that, if there is evidence of wrongdoing, it can be presented by a neutral body to the international community so that a collective response can be pursued,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “It seems to me highly risky and premature for another country to bomb such a facility.”
The real question is why Israel acted now when the reactor surely wouldn’t have been completed for years. Just sending a message to Iran? If so, it was an awfully high-stakes message.