Israel’s Sept. 6 bombing of a building in Syria continues to be shrouded in secrecy, but both American analysts and United Nations investigators now believe that the entire incident was the result of poor intelligence compiled by the Israelis and accepted by a gullible White House. The follow-up investigation has been hampered by the Bush administration’s absolute refusal to co-operate. The U.S. government presumably knows what occurred and why, but has not been willing to share that information with the intelligence community.
The information is reported to be so tightly held within the administration that only a handful of senior officials and congressional committee chairmen have been briefed. One might expect that a huge error involving an attack on another country that posed no immediate threat to the United States would result in an immediate leak, but the involvement of Israel has produced unusual restraint.
The analysts and UN investigators have concluded definitively that the bombed Syrian building was in no way connected with any identifiable nuclear program. No nuclear materials were released into the air after the bombing, and the configuration of the building does not suggest that it was designed for either nuclear processing or even research.
Since Israel is technically still at war with Syria and has not previously been shy about staging air attacks, the mystery remains as to why there is the continuing veil of secrecy. Sources in Washington believe it is because the United States was actively involved in the planning and execution of the operation, which could reasonably be construed as an act of war against Damascus. One source reports that the U.S. had special operations soldiers on the ground in the vicinity of the bombing to move in and obtain incriminating material. We may have also assisted in the actual targeting, possibly using laser pinpointing. The soldiers would have infiltrated Syria from nearby Turkey, which also explains why Turkey did not protest when its airspace was violated by the Israeli planes that also dropped their empty fuel tanks inside Turkish territory. Another source notes that the Israelis appear to have believed that North Korean technicians were present at the site and might have been killed in the bombing, placing at risk the recently concluded nuclear disarmament agreement with Pyongyang should it become known that the U.S. was involved.
Another well-placed source speculates that the Israelis got everything wrong in their collection of intelligence and analysis. They incorrectly assumed that material and technicians coming from North Korea in support of a Syrian missile program were instead involved in nuclear technology transfer. When the White House was informed of the development, it opted for absolute secrecy and therefore failed to review the information with U.S. intelligence, leading to a misguided joint assault on Syria that could easily have been avoided.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy.