The Guardian: Israel believes that Syria was planning to supply Iran with spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing into weapons-grade plutonium from the site it bombed last September, and which is currently being inspected by the UN's nuclear watchdog.
- Strategic expert says idea was to share plutonium
Speculation grows over possible attack
Ian Black, Middle East editor
Israel believes that Syria was planning to supply Iran with spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing into weapons-grade plutonium from the site it bombed last September, and which is currently being inspected by the UN's nuclear watchdog.
The claim from an adviser to Israel's national security council, came yesterday as speculation mounts about a possible Israeli attack on Iran. The Israeli government officially backs UN sanctions to force Tehran to halt its uranium enrichment but has little faith they will succeed.
Details about the alleged Syrian reactor and the Israeli raid remain shrouded in secrecy. Syria denies it has or had a covert nuclear weapons programme and insists the Israelis hit an ordinary military structure being built at al-Kibar, in the country's north-eastern desert.
The US claimed in April that Syria had almost completed the plant with the help of North Korea, which evaded the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) checks and tested a nuclear device in 2006. Officials in Damascus accused the US of fabricating evidence in collusion with Israel, which unlike Syria and Iran is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and is the Middle East's only nuclear power. Washington did not mention any link to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The Israeli adviser told the Guardian: "The Iranians were involved in the Syrian programme. The idea was that the Syrians produce plutonium and the Iranians get their share. Syria had no reprocessing facility for the spent fuel. It's not deduction alone that brings almost everyone to think that the link exists."
On Monday the German magazine Der Spiegel quoted "intelligence reports" as making similar claims. A Syrian government spokesman dismissed them as "nonsense". But Der Spiegel said that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, was considering withdrawing support for the Iranian nuclear programme. Tehran and Damascus have had close relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Both support Hizbullah, which fought Israel in 2006.
Amos Yadlin, head of Israel's military intelligence, told MPs last Sunday that the Syrians were "concerned" about the inspection by the IAEA and were trying to conceal their actions.
The IAEA team, led by Olli Heinonen of Finland, reached al-Kibar on Monday and was due to hold talks with Syrian officials before returning to Vienna today.
The IAEA put Syria on its proliferation watch-list in April after receiving intelligence photographs from the US, said to show a reactor that could have yielded plutonium. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of IAEA, condemned the Israeli raid and criticised the US for failing to share intelligence on Syria sooner. Last week ElBaradei cast doubt on his inspectors' ability to establish the nature of the site. "It is doubtful that we will find anything there now, assuming there was anything there in the first place," he said.
The Israeli adviser said the US "implored" Israel for months to agree to release details of the September attack, which Israel has never officially acknowledged. Israel was reluctant to do so to avoid Syrian retaliation. Since then, the two countries have begun peace talks brokered by Turkey.
Earlier this month 100 Israeli fighter aircraft reportedly rehearsed an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The jets flew more than 870 miles, roughly the distance between Israel and Iran's main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. An attack would "turn the region into a fireball," ElBaradei warned.