Eli Lake at the New York Sun thinks that the White House may want to manipulate Syria into substantive peace negotiations through deliberate timing of the exposure of the nuclear plant at Al-Kibar. Instead of releasing all the data immediately, the US has left it hanging over the head of Bashar Assad for months, keeping him from conducting a reprisal against Israel until it became so late to be pointless. Now, with the UN taking an interest in Syria’s nuclear activities, Assad may have gotten a push to get serious about peace talks with Ehud Olmert:

At the moment America has disclosed to the world Israel’s success in ending a North Korea-aided nuclear weapons project in the Syrian desert, the Syrians are saying Prime Minister Olmert will relinquish the Golan Heights.

The Israelis are offering no public comment. But Syria’s expatriates minister, Buthaina Shaaban, told Al-Jazeera that the Israeli premier had instructed Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to deliver the message. “Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria,” she told the Arab satellite network.

The interview aired before the White House instructed the intelligence community to brief Congress and journalists on the details of Syria’s undeclared nuclear weapons program. The briefing included a videotape of North Korean technicians building the same kind of lab reactor as the one found in North Korea’s Yongbyon facility, according to congressional sources and the Washington Post.

The public disclosure of the North Korea-Syria program changes the calculus for the president’s policies toward both Damascus and Pyongyang. Damascus will likely face a nuclear audit from the International Atomic Energy Agency and may be raising the Golan issue and the prospect of peace in hopes of distracting from its nuclear program. North Korea has agreed to, but has yet to deliver, a full declaration of its nuclear weapons program. …

The White House said it withheld the intelligence on Syria in the immediate aftermath of the bombing in part to avoid the potential of a regional war between Syria and Israel. “If Syria was forced to acknowledge the full extent of the September 6 operation, they would have to retaliate at the time,” one Bush administration official said. A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, demanded Syria come clean. “The Syrian regime must come clean before the world regarding its illicit nuclear activities.”

It'[s an interesting scenario, but not completely convincing. Assad has already run afoul of the UN over the assassination of Rafik Hariri and others in Lebanon, and that didn’t stop him from partnering with Kim Jong-Il on nuclear weapons. If the Syrians have suddenly become interested in peace, Israeli bombs likely provided a lot more incentive than the American delay in briefing Congress.

Intel committee leaders got briefed contemporaneously to the events, but the rest of the committees and leadership got nothing after the bombing run. Pete Hoekstra, one of the handful kept abreast, considers that a mistake. If it prevented a war between Syria and Israel, it wasn’t a mistake but a tactical tradeoff. Again, though, it’s hard to see Syria launching a war against Israel that it would have lost in days, with or without Iranian intervention.

This does validate one Bush statement at the beginning of the war on terror. Syria and North Korea certainly appear to be acting on an axis, helping to proliferate WMD. That has been forgotten or caricatured, but George Bush warned of exactly this kind of expansion of nuclear weapons in the first term of his presidency. The scoffers remain very silent on that point.