Rumors of the discovery of the holy grail of Iraq hawks surface once again. I am … how you say? Ah, yes: Skeptical.
An upcoming joint US-Israel report on the September 6 IAF strike on a Syrian facility will claim that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein transferred weapons of mass destruction to the country, Channel 2 stated Monday.
Furthermore, according to a report leaked to the TV channel, Syria has arrested 10 intelligence officials following the assassination of Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh.
Is the suggestion that the facility bombed by the IAF was itself housing Saddam’s WMD, or that whatever it was that was inside the building — ballistic missiles, a nuclear reactor, a nuclear weapons factory — was built on the back of transferred technology? (The Syrian structure does date to 2003.) If the former, there’s a problem: It’s North Korea, not Iraq, that’s supposedly responsible for supplying Assad, an allegation most recently repeated just a few days ago in a Japanese paper that claimed to have inside information about Ehud Olmert’s conversation with Japan’s prime minister on the subject. If the latter, there’s another problem: The boxy Syrian structure resembled one of North Korea’s gas-graphite reactors, one of the reasons analysts thought it was a nuke facility. If it was actually just a warehouse, that’s a mighty unfortunate coincidence for Assad. Still, it’s worth re-reading the 2004 NYT op-ed by Mahdi Obeidi, former chief of Saddam’s centrifuge program, about what Iraq had and didn’t have and how quickly they could have put Humpty Dumpty back together if they needed to:
Iraqi scientists had the knowledge and the designs needed to jumpstart the program if necessary. And there is no question that we could have done so very quickly… Had Saddam Hussein ordered it and the world looked the other way, we might have shaved months if not years off our previous efforts.
As I say, I’m skeptical (and have been for awhile) but it’s worth flagging on a slow news night while we wait for the report.