Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 06, 2013

Some New Bits On The Syrian Al-Kibar "Reactor"

The convicted criminal neocon Elliott Abrams is writing in Commentary about the 2007 bombing of the alleged nuclear reactor at Al-Kibar in Syria. As was to be expected his story isn't straight. Indeed there is huge discrepancy in it. He starts with the Israelis coming to Washington to tell what they thought they had found:
[Mossad chief Meir Dagan] showed us intelligence demonstrating that Syria was constructing a nuclear reactor whose design was supplied by North Korea, and doing so with North Korean technical assistance. Dagan left us with one stark message: All Israeli policymakers who saw the evidence agreed that the reactor had to go away.

There then began a four-month process of extremely close cooperation with Israel about the reactor, called al-Kibar. As soon as our own intelligence had confirmed the Israeli information and we all agreed on what we were dealing with, Hadley established a process for gathering further information, considering our options, and sharing our thinking with Israel.

Reading these lines one would think that the U.S. services confirmed the Israeli take that their pictures of that place showed indeed a nuclear reactor.

But much later into the story we learn the opposite. After some month of intense debate Bush decided to not bomb the "reactor":

[O]n July 13, President Bush had called Prime Minister Olmert from his desk in the Oval Office and explained his view. I have gone over this in great detail, Bush explained on the secure phone to the Israeli prime minister, looking at every possible scenario and its likely aftermath. We have looked at overt and covert options, and I have made a decision. We are not going to take the military path; we are instead going to the UN. Bush recounts in his memoir that he told Olmert, “I cannot justify an attack on a sovereign nation unless my intelligence agencies stand up and say it’s a weapons program” and that “I had decided on the diplomatic option backed by the threat of force.” We will announce this approach soon, Bush said on the secure line, and we will then launch a major diplomatic campaign, starting at the IAEA and then the UN Security Council.
So according to Bush, even month after the initial Israeli visit, U.S. intelligence agencies could NOT confirm that there was a reactor and thereby a nuclear weapons program. That is quite different from what Abrams asserts in the first quote.

But such obfuscation, if not outright lying, is just what one expects from such a man.

Two month after Bush's phone call the Israeli's bombed the place. Syria then removed the debris. The IAEA later visited the site and then claimed to have found traces of Uranium there. It rejected Syria's explanation that that Uranium must have come from the Israeli weapon that hit the place. 

Robert Kelly says that the IAEA is wrong in rejecting Syria's explanation.  Kelly managed the centrifuge and plutonium metallurgy programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and was seconded by the US DOE to the IAEA where he served twice as a Director in the nuclear inspections in Iraq, in 1992-1993 and 2002-2003. As he sees it:

In Syria, for example, the IAEA was successful in collecting uranium particles at a site that had been “sanitized.” But then the IAEA cavalierly dismissed Syrian explanations that the natural uranium particles found at a bombed suspect site came from Israeli missiles. The agency’s claims that the particles are not of the correct isotopic and chemical composition for missiles, displays an appalling lack of technical knowledge about military munitions based on information from questionable sources. If the IAEA is to be respected it must get proper technical advice. For example deep earth penetrating bombs, not missiles were used in Syria.
Indeed the "bunker buster" deep penetrating BLU-116 bomb was designed with a heavy core made from depleted Uranium. If Israel used that or a similar weapon at Al-Kibar, as makes sense and as Kelly claims, the Uranium the IAEA found there would be very well explained.

The whole claim of a "reactor" in Al-Kibar is still dubious. The U.S. agencies did not agree to that Israeli assertion and the IAEA's find of small Uranium particels does not prove that there was a reactor or Uranium at Al-Kibar before the place was bombed.

Posted by b on February 6, 2013 at 17:05 UTC | Permalink


Memory hole stuff again. They walk a fine line between attracting eyes to their version and admitting criminality, as usual. That's the great thing about using nuke tipped bombs - they leave "proof" if ever should the victim whinge about being targeted.

But seriously, why didn't Syria go to the UN back then?

Posted by: L Bean | Feb 6 2013 17:41 utc | 2

@g - that textile factory is not Al-Kibar.

But no I didn't miss that textile factory. I was, indeed, the guy who initiated the finding that the place was a textile factory.

Posted by: b | Feb 6 2013 18:03 utc | 3

@L bean - But seriously, why didn't Syria go to the UN back then?

For what? A U.S. veto on any initiative the UNSC might have taken?

Posted by: b | Feb 6 2013 18:04 utc | 4

I don't know, "for the record"? But you're right, of course. I guess I just felt like back then it seemed as if someone talked them down - a Bushy renditiony related thing, if you will.

Posted by: L Bean | Feb 6 2013 18:09 utc | 5

"Bush recounts in his memoir..."

are you talking about this guy?

Sorry, I'll take this as a joke.

Posted by: neretva'43 | Feb 6 2013 18:53 utc | 6

Did you not see this brilliant article of the state-run BBC?

"Israel believes Syria received a battery of SA-17s from Russia after an alleged Israeli air strike in 2007 that destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor near Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, analysts say."

Yeah, that's right! The Israeli air strike is "alleged" and the Syrian nuclear reactor is fact!

I don't have the time to search for them right now, but the BBC, AP, AFP, and so on, had the same quote without the "analysts say" in case someone thinks that portion makes the quote less deceptive.

Posted by: Murad | Feb 6 2013 19:40 utc | 7

I'm wondering if most of the "international news" is written by one guy in Tel Aviv and the main job of the editors of the major msm outlets is to organise the writers so they pad his words and add a bit of individual flavour. I write that only half joking.

Posted by: вот так | Feb 6 2013 20:06 utc | 8

from the memory hole
Of ticking bombs and accidental war

Posted by: somebody | Feb 6 2013 20:08 utc | 9

Should we continue with baited breath to wait for the decisive retaliation from the heroic, arab leader of the Zionist resistance, Dr. Bashar Assad against Israel? But only silence from the good doctor. He is very decisive, however, against his own people. Still awaiting his retaliation against the Zionist entity for their previous strike against the nascent nuclear site as well. So, now it appears that Syria did not retaliate because of false, Zionist claims after the fact? Maybe, it is a conspiracy inside of a conspiracy.

Posted by: David | Feb 6 2013 20:34 utc | 10

"Should we continue with baited breath to wait for the decisive retaliation from the heroic, arab leader of the Zionist resistance, Dr. Bashar Assad against Israel?"

I'm not sure what the Hasbara rules are, David, but the correct spelling is "bated" which is a short form of "abated" or depressed.
The idea is that excitement and anticipation makes us pant as we wait for something to happen.
Personally I think that these state sponsored, penny a line, comments ought to be models of idiomatic English to suggest that they were written by knowledgeable grown-ups rather than racists squatting on other people's property.
Memo to David's boss: this employee needs more training.

Posted by: bevin | Feb 6 2013 21:08 utc | 11


That was smart and funny.

Posted by: ATH | Feb 6 2013 21:16 utc | 12

this here is fun from stratfor wondering why all actors US, Israel, Turkey, Syria, Iran kept officially mainly silent whilst two actors US, Israel made the most of leaks to keep the media guessing.

"When events get so strange that interpretation is a challenge, it usually indicates it was intended that way, that the events are significant and that they could point to further instability. We do not know whether that is true, but Israel and the United States have certainly worked hard to create a riddle wrapped in a mystery.

I have a very simple explanation but obviously it would never cross Western media's mind:

Syria and Iran kept silent because they were satisfied that Israel could not take this route to Iran. US and Israel were silent for the same reason. The nuclear reactor was invented to save Israel's face.

Israeli jets dropped the bunker bombs for the same reason they dropped the fuel tanks in Turkey - to escape faster.

Posted by: somebody | Feb 6 2013 21:50 utc | 13

more fun - how facts are manufactured

On 10 October 2007 Syria took journalists on a tour of the site at Dayr az Zawr, Syria that Israel had allegedly bombed. The New York Times reported the visit on 11 October 2007, stating that there was no evidence of either a nuclear program or an Israeli air strike at the facility. Ron Ben-Yishai, a reporter for the daily Yediot Acharonot had visited the site some days previously, and reported that the government facility here was the one attacked during the raid. The Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands is a government agricultural research center at Deir ez Zor in eastern Syria.

On 14 October 2007 The New York Times reported that the 09 September 2007 Israeli airstrike in Syria was directed against " ... a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel... the American and foreign officials said. They said it would have been years before the Syrians could have used the reactor to produce the spent nuclear fuel ... The partly constructed Syrian reactor was detected earlier this year by satellite photographs... It is possible, some officials said, that the transfer of the technology occurred several years ago."

Posted by: somebody | Feb 6 2013 22:22 utc | 14

I was most certainly impressed with that 'nuclear reactor's' cooling system. Open windows, where a million canaries where to be glued to the sills in a dual use fashion [cooling and safeguarding the facility at the same time].

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Feb 6 2013 22:51 utc | 15

hey, b. you made it into German wikipedia :-))

Posted by: somebody | Feb 6 2013 22:59 utc | 16

Just a quick point regarding the Uranium found by the IAEA at Al-Kibar.

The IAEA rejected the Syrian explanation because the IAEA insisted that they found traces of transuranium elements (a.k.a. transuranic elements) in their samples, and then dogmatically claimed that such elements are only found in reactors, ergo, they could not possibly have come from Depleted Uranium munitions.

The IAEA was wrong to the point of utter incompetency.

Not only that, but they had no excuse for being wrong precisly because prior UN-funded reports of DU munitions had unambigously found traces of transuranic elements in US-manufactured DU penetrators.

One such study was carried out by UNEP (UN Environment Program) in Kosovo, and this report:

contains this statement:
"The UNEP studies in Kosovo showed that the material in the DU penetrators
found there also contained traces of transuranic isotopes such as uranium-236 and
plutonium-239/240 which are created during nuclear reactions. This indicates that at
least part of the material in the penetrators had originated from the reprocessing of
nuclear fuel."

What the IAEA didn't know - or chose to deliberately ignore - is that the USA is unique in using spent REPROCESSED nuclear fuel for its Depleted Uranium weapons, and so if you examine a smoking crater and you find traces of transuranic elements then what you are looking at is a building that was demolished by a DU bomb manufactured by the United States Of America.

And - gosh! What A Coincidence! - Israel get its DU munitions from the USA.

Posted by: Johnboy | Feb 6 2013 23:10 utc | 17

Johnboy - 17

"is that the USA is unique in using spent REPROCESSED nuclear fuel for its Depleted Uranium weapons"

That's interesting. I wonder if it still holds true today?

Posted by: вот так | Feb 6 2013 23:36 utc | 18

@18 No idea, but even if the USA has stopped that practice there will still be vast stockpiles of existing DU munitions that are laced with depleted uranium containing traces of transuranic elements.

I have one correction to make: the IAEA reports mention "anthropogenic natural uranium" (i.e. uranium resulting from chemical processing) and does not directly mention "transuranic elements".

It does, however, dismiss the Syrian explanation by saying "The Agency’s current assessment is that there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles as the isotopic and chemical composition and the morphology of the particles are all inconsistent with what would be expected from the use of uranium based munitions."

It is at *that* point that the IAEA is displaying its ignorance of USA manufacturing practices i.e. that the USA obtains its depleted uranium from spent reprocessed uranium fuel (and, remember, reprocessing is itself is a chemical process, du'oh!), rather than from spent natural uranium reactor fuel.

Posted by: Johnboy | Feb 7 2013 0:04 utc | 19


Posted by: ATH | Feb 7 2013 1:05 utc | 20

I find any 'serious' discussion about the IAEA irritating and nauseating.
It's a fake organisation with no power, independence or credibility whatsoever - just another supine tool of the US-NATO Empire, like the UN.
The only "nookular programs" it has ever been allowed to inspect were in Iraq and Iran (which should tell you something). Everyone else can, and does, ignore it without creating a ripple in the 'international community'.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Feb 7 2013 2:01 utc | 21

@ Hoarsewhisperer [#21],

I think the running aground of one of our 'modern minesweepers' on a pristine Phillipa reef, is indicative of the near comical tidbits of reality we encounter on a near daily basis. An that's still while watching a blank screen. Wait until you switch the darn thing on. The cave will never be the same again. Ever.

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Feb 7 2013 2:20 utc | 22

Daniel Rich - 22

"running aground of one of our 'modern minesweepers' on a pristine Phillipa reef"

I was very surprised that Iran-Russia-China-North Korea-Venezuela-Syria were not blamed for that. The crew in Tel Aviv must have been sleeping.

Posted by: вот так | Feb 7 2013 2:34 utc | 23

@21: The reason is that the IAEA has nothing to do with the NPT.

Posted by: k_w | Feb 7 2013 7:18 utc | 24

western sanctioned genocide in Mali

Posted by: nikon | Feb 7 2013 11:09 utc | 25

Khamenei explains that direct negotiations with the US are not in the national interest of Iran:


what now? throw a tantrum?

Posted by: somebody | Feb 7 2013 11:50 utc | 26

The Atlantic is giving space to a propagandist from the Saban-related Brookings-Doha Center to lament that Obama is hesitating to get more involved in Syria (some weird fears by Obama's liberal supporters that Syria looks too much like Iraq).

I don't know what the response to the article from its readers in print, but the majority of its online responders aren't buying the soft-peddled war mongering.

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Feb 7 2013 20:58 utc | 27

Interesting catch by the Angry Arab. Could this be the beginning of a trend in media coverage?

Paradox of New York Times' coverage of Syria "while others noted that previous rebel claims of territorial gains in Damascus had almost always turned out to be embellished or unfounded." For the first time I see in the New York Times a (passing) reference to the lies, fabrications, and exaggerations by the armed rebel gangs in Syria. But this is the problem: if the Times has belatedly noted this true aspect of rebel propaganda, how does it reconcile that with its total and complete reliance on rebel groups for its coverage on Syria. Even its skype names and addresses of "activists" are obtained through the press media of those groups. Who are you fooling?

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Feb 8 2013 0:04 utc | 28

Rusty Pipes - 28

"Could this be the beginning of a trend in media coverage?"

They currently have an image problem they want to fix:

Major US newspapers admit to honoring CIA demands

"As incoming CIA chief John Brennan prepares to answer questions from Congress, some of the biggest names in US media are under attack for hiding a secret drone base that the Obama nominee helped build."

The ghouls still have not got their blood fix:

Pentagon in favor of arming Syrian rebels

"The outgoing leader of the United States Department of Defense told Congress on Thursday that the Pentagon favors a plan to arm the Syrian rebels attempting to oust President Bashar al-Assad."

These blood suckers intend to keep sending death squads to Syria indefinitely.

Posted by: вот так | Feb 8 2013 0:54 utc | 29

Great post, b.

Good thoughts, somebody.

Thanks for the details on DU, Johnboy.

I notice this attack came before the Stuxnet cyberwar attack. Now Stuxnet must have taken a while to develop, so we are probably looking at parallel tactics. But the common perception that Stuxnet was implemented to render an air attack unnecessary is now seen to be false: The air attack was tried first and failed.

Also explains why the US is now focusing so fanatically on destroying Syria, as a sub-goal.

Side note: There is an irony to the US initiating this form of cyberwar--Stuxnet was hard to develop, but is now everywhere and should be easy to re-purpose. This ubiquity and ease means that deterrence is impossible. And anyone who uses industrial controllers is now at risk. The irony is that the US is near the top of the latter list.


Posted by: Gaianne | Feb 8 2013 8:04 utc | 30

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