The Great Syrian Nuclear Menace
by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis
PARIS — Last week, US intelligence released a dramatic video that purportedly showed a Syrian nuclear reactor under construction and North Korean personnel helping in the project. The video and still pictures were evidently taken by Israeli agents.
The unfinished "reactor" was destroyed last September by Israeli warplanes in an operation that was closely coordinated between Israel and the United States whose Mideast operations have become virtually seamless.
Until late last week, Israel and the US remained officially silent about the attack, though neoconservatives loudly claimed a reactor had indeed been destroyed.
Syria claimed the building was a military warehouse, but curiously said nothing more about what was clearly an act of war. But Syria was quick to bulldoze and remove the wreckage, adding credence to US-Israeli assertions.
Washington offered no proof the reactor, if it was one, would have produced weapons rather than electric power. The reactor core seen in the photos resembled a North Korean reactor, but was not identical, contrary to CIA claims. US and Israeli intelligence have long stated Syria had no nuclear weapons capabilities. But the photos released by CIA certainly looked like a North Korean reactor under construction.
Vice President Dick Cheney and fellow neocons forced CIA to release the James Bondish video in an effort to sabotage an impending six-nation agreement to end North Korea’s nuclear program which they bitterly oppose for being too soft on Pyongyang. US neoconservatives have long worried about the possibility of North Korea selling nuclear technology to Arab states, which might pose nuclear competition to Israel. So they oppose the nuclear freeze worked out between Pyongyang and Washington after torturous negotiations which leaves North Korea with a number of nuclear weapons and some further production capability.
This mysterious affair is also being used by Israel’s rightwing Likud Party, a close ally of US neoconservatives, to attack political rival Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party.
Olmert has reportedly been involved in Turkish-brokered , back-channel peace talks with Syria for some years. Likud and its US allies are determined to sabotage any deal with Damascus that would return the Golan Heights to Syria, which Israel conquered in the 1967 war and refuses to relinquish in violation of UN resolutions The Likud Party also sought to derail efforts by former US president Jimmy Carter to encourage Israeli-Syrian talks, and get Israel and Hamas to talk. Israel has heaped insult and abuse on the former American president without a peep of protest from the Bush administration. Rising up from the grass, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even joined the barrage of criticism against President Carter.
Under the purported deal between Israel and Syria, Israel would return the Golan Heights in exchange for Damascus’ agreement to sever its close links with Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbullah, and Hamas. Syria would also grant Israel important water rights. The fate of up to 250,000 Syrian inhabitants driven from Golan remains uncertain. While Syria has admitted talks with Israel have gone on, it has given no indication of the terms involved.
Israel, backed by the Bush administration, has certainly been using the carrot of a return of Golan to entice Syria away from Iran. But there is also a big stick: ever-stronger threats of a US-Israeli attack on Syria. Israel’s September attack on Syria was a clear warning.
Cheney and fellow militarists are pushing hard for attacks on Syria, Lebanon and Iran before President George Bush leaves office. Neoconservatives have flocked to Sen. John McCain’s banner — in spite of Hillary Clinton’s crude attempt to woo them by vowing to "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.
The neocons believe US attacks on Arab states and/or Iran would prove decisive in winning the presidency for Sen. John McCain this November. A US attack on Syria could also be the first step of the long-planned US air war against Lebanon and Iran.
Meanwhile, Cheney and allies in Congress and media are also using the Syrian reactor story to undermine efforts by the US State Department, a primary hate object for neocons, to implement the nuclear weapons freeze with North Korea. State Department boss Condoleezza Rice has run for cover, leaving her chief negotiator with North Korea to twist in the wind.
As the latest furor over the nefarious North Koreans builds, we should be cautious. The "evidence" presented to the US Congress last Thursday may also come from the same people who manufactured all the fake "evidence" about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction," mobile germ laboratories, and links to al-Qaida.
We need to remember that the "evidence" about Syria’s supposed nuclear weapons project comes from Israel and the same administration that proposed painting US aircraft in UN colors and buzzing Iraqi AA positions in an effort to draw fire, thus providing a pretext for war with Iraq.
North Koreans are pretty scary, but their nuclear capabilities and the threat they pose have been exaggerated. South Korea and European intelligence agencies, for example, are cautious about Washington’s claims about North Korea and Syria.
But the North American media has once again fallen right into step with government propaganda efforts by playing the Syrian nuclear story to the full and failing to ask hard questions about the story. Such as, why would Syria need a nuclear weapon that could kill as many Syrians in a nuclear exchange as Israelis? Why was the so-called reactor not protected by antiaircraft defenses? Why was it constructed in the open, clearly visible to watching satellites and drones? Why was it not hidden in an industrial building? Could it have been a depot for North Korean Scud-C missiles, and so on?
The New York Times revealed last week what this column has long said: the Pentagon has duped Americans by organizing a bunch of retired US generals — mislabeled "independent military experts" — to promote the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the media. They were paid $500 to $1,000 for each brief appearance to make propaganda for the administration. The NY Times rightly called them "Trojan horses." These shills befouled the honor of the uniforms they once wore.
But the Times was hardly Simon-pure: reporter Judith Miller had used its pages to promote gross lies about Iraq and stoke war fever. The Times op-ed pages have been filled with neocon and Pentagon calls to war. At least the Times was atoning by blowing open the latest scandal about government-manufactured news. Our media increasingly resembles the bootlickers of the old Soviet press.
Watch these rent-a-generals now return to TV to promote the administration’s party line about the Great Syrian Nuclear Menace.
There are fears here the bitter Hillary-Obama contest may ruin both candidates, leading to four more years of Bush under John McCain. But it may also benefit Obama. He needs to toughen up before facing the ferocious Republican attack machine that sunk war veteran John Kerry’s campaign under a torrent of "Swiftboat" lies about his military service in Vietnam. John McCain is a gentleman, but not so Republican strategist Carl Rove’s waiting character assassins.
Obama could sharply alter America’s highly negative image created by Bush & Co. as a determined enemy of the Muslim world. Not because his father was Muslim, but because of his image of fairness and sensible foreign policy proposals calling for open dialogue with the Muslim World, including Iran, instead of confrontation. If Americans want to repair relations with the Muslim world, electing Obama is a good way to start.
It’s distressing listening to the rich John McCain and equally rich Clintons scourge Obama an "elitist" because he is intelligent, articulate, and poised. Next, they will brand him as, "too French."