A Harder Line

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Last September, the Israeli Air Force bombed a site in Syria. The mission was veiled in secrecy. Was it retaliatory? A strike on Hezbollah? Israeli and American officials were silent. At press conferences, members of the Bush administration refused to answer questions about the attack, even as speculation grew that the jets had destroyed a clandestine nuclear facility. (You may remember that, in February, Seymour Hersh, of The New Yorker magazine, appeared on our program, to talk about his article, "A Strike in the Dark: What did Israel bomb in Syria?")

Just over a week ago, American officials announced that the IAF had bombed a nuclear site, built with North Korean assistance. They provided photographs, taken by the Central Intelligence Agency.

This weekend, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece by Leonard Spector and Avner Cohen, called "Cloak and stagger." Evidence that Iran and Syria have nuclear programs is there, they said, but we're not drawing obvious inferences, calling spades spades.

Do you think that the United States has taken, or is taking, a hard-enough line against Iran, Syria, and North Korea? Now that we've seen evidence, should we do more?

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Wasn't "curve Ball" dismissed by the intellegence folks? Wasn't it the neo-cons and the White House who took him and other Iraqie dissidents, malcontents and those with a myrad of personal agendas as gospel? When will come to grips with the ethical position put forth by no less of an authority as Pope John the 23rd that a pre- emptive strike is imoral and makes us out to be the bullies of the world?

Sent by Bob Suckiel | 3:07 PM | 5-5-2008

I work with the Norwegian government. Recently, a colleague returned from Iran and discussed the fact that people all over the country believe that their government is building nuclear bomb capability and - most chilling -- say quite openly that they plan to use a nuclear bomb against Israel as a first-strike. Given Ahmadinejad's outspoken declaration that he plans to wipe Israel off the earth, we cannot blithely assume he is all bluster. If the US or Europe had an enemy on its borders declaring they were going to destroy the country and that enemy was building a nuclear weapons capability, the US or Europe would be doing everything possible to stop that capability from becoming a full reality.

Sent by Leni Marks | 3:13 PM | 5-5-2008

To Mr. Marks, we can hardly take the word of one colleague who may or may not have an agenda. Why would Iran attack Israel when they know Israel/U.S. would retaliate? Further, in regard to Neal Conan's comment about Iran having vast amounts of oil/gas..I heard that Iran does not do their own refining of their oil, that it is very costly to send out their oil to be refined for their own use. It would probably be more profitable for Iran to sell their oil to other countries. What is not being mentioned is that the IAEA inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they have not identified any nuclear weapons program. Here is the media beating the war drums again, this time for an attack on Iran.

Sent by Eleanor S. | 4:00 PM | 5-5-2008

Why would any American accept the official explanation of any foreign policy event after all of the lies and distortions given to sell the War in Iraq? We now know that the Pentagon sent out at least 75 shills to promote this war to the people through the MSM. These weren't just any shills. These were once-respected leaders in our military services who used their trusted positions to do George Bush's bidding and used their connections to enrich themselves through their contacts within the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about.

After this recent history, every American and every reporter should be asking hard questions about any foreign policy claims made by this administration and its supporters. But such questioning is not happening.??

One of the the few Americans who had actual knowledge about Saddam Hussein's WMDs and nuclear capabilities before the war began was Scott Ritter, who served from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). Ritter served in the US Army and the US Marine Corps for many years before joining UNSCOM.

We have good reason to trust Ritter's analysis. What he said about Iraq 5 1/2 years ago has turned out to be true, while what government officials said was mostly lies and distortions. Now, our public officials are selling another foreign policy story without sufficient evidence to support it.

Last week, US intelligence officials presented information they said proved Syria was building a dangerous nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance. The evidence included pictures, supposedly obtained by Israel, allegedly taken inside the facility, showing the reactor core being built. The officials said the US believed the site was nearing operational capability, but nevertheless they had "low confidence" the site played a role in a Syrian nuclear weapons program.

The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, said this to reporters: "That this facility was being built secretly and against international convention and that it was destroyed before it became operational are the key points to remember. It should serve as a reminder to us all of the very real dangers of proliferation and need to rededicate ourselves to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, particularly into the hands of a state or a group with terrorist connections."

Syria's envoy to the US, Imad Moustapha, ridiculed the American claims explaining that it could not have been a strategic site in Syria because it did not have a military checkpoint around it, was not protected by barbed wire, anti-aircraft missiles, or any security. It was "in the middle of the desert without electricity, plans to generate electricity for it, without major supply plans around it." And, Moustapha pointed out that its location was far from secret: "(E)very commercial satellite service available on earth was able to provide photos and images of this so-called secret Syrian site for the past five, six years."

Scott Ritter, in an interview with journalist Amy Goodman on April 28, explained the so-called evidence of a nuclear reactor: "We have interior photographs and exterior shots and nothing that links the two.... But let's just assume for a second that the data (are) accurate. I have to take exception with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he says that the alleged activities are against international conventions. Actually, they're not. If Syria had in fact been constructing the reactor they've been accused of, they were in total conformity with international law. The ... Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Syria is a signatory, requires that facilities be declared to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) only when nuclear materials are to be introduced to these facilities, that a facility under construction is not a declarable item. And so, it's absurd to sit there and say that just because Syria and North Korea were pouring concrete that they are somehow breaking the law."

"This notion that the reactor was on the verge of becoming operational, again, is absurd. You know, there would have to be literally thousands of pounds of pure graphite that would have to be introduced to this facility.... If it had been bombed and there was graphite introduced, you would have a signature all over the area of destroyed graphite blocks. There would be graphite lying around. This was not the case."

"I don't know what was going on at this site. If the images are accurate, it appears that Syria was producing a very, very small research reactor. But it is not a reactor usable in a nuclear weapons program. Syria was not violating the law."

Ritter explained that a simple referral to the IAEA would have resulted in on-site inspections that could have ended the conflict peacefully. "This shows that the United States and Israel have a wanton disregard for the rule of law." The law in question is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the US points to as creating a standard to which we hold Iran and North Korea, but fail to honor ourselves.

Ritter summed up the situation: "The site was bombed. And the United States government has not condemned this bombing. We are signatories to the Charter of the United Nations. We are a permanent member of the Security Council. And it is our responsibility to ensure that the sovereignty of member nations is protected. And what occurred in September of last year was that the sovereignty of Syria was violated by Israel in a preemptive, unprovoked attack against a site that was not in any way representative of a threat to Israel or a violation of international law. This is where people should be focused ..., (not on) what was or what wasn't going on in Syria.... And the United States is remaining not only silent, but we're actually siding with the aggressor."

Sent by Lamar Hankins | 5:25 PM | 5-5-2008

Hello and congratulations to Avner Cohen, a friend of mine from Cambridge, for "Cloak and Stagger". I must wonder and chuckle at a dim possibility for what inspired this title. Thank you in advance for forwarding this email(which I hope you will respect as a personal note) with my address directly to Avner. Sincerely,
Brian Adams

Sent by Brian Adams | 6:28 PM | 5-5-2008

Leonard Specter seemed quite disingenuous when he mentioned that bombing Syria would not be consistent with the non-profliferation treaty. He forgot to note that Israel has refused to sign that treaty! Iran has, and therefore should be allowed MORE nuclear weapoons than Israel.

Israel bombed a sewage treatment plant in Syria! That is a war crime, purposely promoting disease in civilians. Israel and and the US are partners in the culture of war - Japanese soldiers were conviceed of war crimes after WW II for water-boarding, but the entertainment presented as news does not notice. The US says they are peace-loving nation, but we have _always_ been at war (in a "conflict") since WW II.

Sent by Henry Kerfoot | 7:06 PM | 5-5-2008

Kudos to the author of this entry, David Gura, for a balanced summation of the show and more importantly, the complicated Middle East conflict.

Sent by Margaret Teich | 11:39 AM | 5-6-2008