Bashar Assad has agreed to allow IAEA inspectors into Syria this month to investigate claims of a covert nuclear program. The move follows the release of US intelligence to the UN agency on a facility destroyed by Israeli warplanes last September. The Bush administration claims it was a nuclear reactor, while Syria rejects the accusation:

UN nuclear inspectors will visit Syria this month to investigate allegations that the country was building a nuclear reactor at a site attacked by Israel last September, officials said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s fact-finding mission is expected to take place from June 22 to 24.

Information about the Israeli bombing of the site did not come to light until April when U.S. officials informed IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei that it believes the facility was a nuclear reactor.

This calls into question how much evidence may be left from the September bombing, and how committed Assad is to continuing the nuclear program after Israel’s attack. Assad notably remained very quiet after the Israelis committed an act of war against him, barely registering even the most perfunctory of protests. Nine months later, he has yet to retaliate for the attack, and has instead entered into indirect peace negotiations with the Israelis.

If Assad has given up the nuclear program, he may have decided to scrub Syria of any evidence of the original venture. A three-day inspection followed by a clean bill of health from the IAEA would give Assad a minor PR victory against American allegations of nuclear proliferation. That will have almost no effect on his domestic or diplomatic status, but he may be demanding the dog and pony show for Iran’s benefit. A refutation of American intelligence on nuclear programs might have the effect of weakening the case against Iran with the IAEA indirectly — or at least that may be what Tehran hopes.

Unfortunately for Assad, nothing speaks louder than the inaction he demonstrated after the September attack. Clearly, Syria had something significant destroyed by Israel, and just as clearly they didn’t want to discuss what it was. If it wasn’t nuclear, it had to be something nearly as bad or worse. An inspection nine months later won’t change many minds now.

Tags: Israel