There is some troubling news out of the Levant this week, as if the West needed any more of that. According to a thorough report in Der Spiegel based on documents obtained from “Western intelligence agencies,” Bashar al-Assad’s Syria is busily developing a nuclear weapon.
“Analysts say that the Syrian atomic weapon program has continued in a secret, underground location,” Der Spiegel reported. “According to information they have obtained, approximately 8,000 fuel rods are stored there. Furthermore, a new reactor or an enrichment facility has very likely been built at the site — a development of incalculable geopolitical consequences.”
According to intelligence agency analysis, construction of the facility began back in 2009. The work, their findings suggest, was disguised from the very beginning, with excavated sand being disposed of at various sites, apparently to make it more difficult for observers from above to tell how deeply they were digging. Furthermore, the entrances to the facility were guarded by the military, which turned out to be a necessary precaution. In the spring of 2013, the region around Qusayr saw heavy fighting. But the area surrounding the project in the mines was held, despite heavy losses suffered by elite Hezbollah units stationed there.
The most recent satellite images show six structures: a guard house and five sheds, three of which conceal entrances to the facility below. The site also has special access to the power grid, connected to the nearby city of Blosah. A particularly suspicious detail is the deep well which connects the facility with Zaita Lake, four kilometers away. Such a connection is unnecessary for a conventional weapons cache, but it is essential for a nuclear facility.
But the clearest proof that it is a nuclear facility comes from radio traffic recently intercepted by a network of spies. A voice identified as belonging to a high-ranking Hezbollah functionary can be heard referring to the “atomic factory” and mentions Qusayr. The Hezbollah man is clearly familiar with the site. And he frequently provides telephone updates to a particularly important man: Ibrahim Othman, the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.
The report further indicates that the two remaining members of the old Axis of Evil — North Korea and Iran — are busily aiding Syria in its quest to replace Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a member of that exclusive club. Der Spiegel revealed that intercepted conversations indicate that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Yongbyon nuclear reactor developer Chou Ji Bu (thought to have been purged by the government in Pyongyang) are involved in the project to develop a Syrian bomb.
This revelation takes on an added level of urgency as Assad has a recent history of using weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, and of doing so even amid global condemnation and in defiance of international agreements to which his government consented. Should Syria construct a fissionable device, there is every reason to believe that Assad’s government would deploy nuclear weapons against areas controlled by anti-Damascus rebels. It is unlikely Assad can be dissuaded from using such a weapon via traditional methods of deterrence.
The revelation that Assad is developing an atomic device, and is doing so with the likely aid of North Korea and Iran, is about as thorough a repudiation of Barack Obama’s approach to the region one could imagine. Obama was handed the reins of American foreign policy under the delusional premise that rogue actors only needed to be engaged diplomatically in order to persuade them to forego their national interests. That was always a fantasy, but do not expect those who support it to abandon this faulty premise so quickly. Faith-based beliefs do not die easy deaths.
This is an embarrassment for the Obama government, but it is also a clear threat to American national interests in the region and globally. Let’s hope that the White House and the press do not attempt to shield the president from humiliation by pretending this dangerous situation does not exist.