September 18, 2007


Osirak II?: Israel's silence on Syria speaks volumes. (BRET STEPHENS, September 18, 2007, Opinion Journal)

What's beyond question is that something big went down on Sept. 6. Israeli sources had been telling me for months that their air force was intensively war-gaming attack scenarios against Syria; I assumed this was in anticipation of a second round of fighting with Hezbollah. On the morning of the raid, Israeli combat brigades in the northern Golan Heights went on high alert, reinforced by elite Maglan commando units. Most telling has been Israel's blanket censorship of the story--unprecedented in the experience of even the most veteran Israeli reporters--which has also been extended to its ordinarily hypertalkative politicians. In a country of open secrets, this is, for once, a closed one.

The censorship helps dispose of at least one theory of the case. According to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Israel's target was a cache of Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah. But if that were the case, Israel would have every reason to advertise Damascus's ongoing violations of Lebanese sovereignty, particularly on the eve of Lebanon's crucial presidential election. Following the January 2002 Karine-A incident--in which Israeli frogmen intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment bound for Gaza--the government of Ariel Sharon wasted no time inviting reporters to inspect the captured merchandise. Had Orchard had a similar target, with similar results, it's doubtful the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert--which badly needs to erase the blot of last year's failed war--could have resisted turning it into a propaganda coup.

Something similar goes for another theory, this one from British journalist Peter Beaumont of the Observer, that the raid was in fact "a dry run for attack on Iran." Mr. Beaumont is much taken by a report that at least one of the Israeli bombers involved in the raid dropped its fuel tanks in a Turkish field near the Syrian border.

Why Israel apparently chose to route its attack through Turkey is a nice question, given that it means a detour of more than 1,000 miles. Damascus claims the fuel tank was discarded after the planes came under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, which could be true. But if Israel is contemplating an attack on Tehran's nuclear installations--and it is--it makes no sense to advertise the "Turkish corridor" as its likely avenue of attack.

As for the North Korean theory, evidence for it starts with Pyongyang. The raid, said one North Korean foreign ministry official quoted by China's Xinhua news agency, was "little short of wantonly violating the sovereignty of Syria and seriously harassing the regional peace and security." But who asked him, anyway? In August, the North Korean trade minister signed an agreement with Syria on "cooperation in trade and science and technology." Last week, Andrew Semmel, the acting counterproliferation chief at the State Department, confirmed that North Korean technicians of some kind were known to be in Syria, and that Syria was "on the U.S. nuclear watch list." And then there is yesterday's curious news that North Korea has abruptly suspended its participation in the six-party talks, for reasons undeclared.'s a helpful reminder to the Left that no matter who the next president is they can't cut a deal with Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2007 3:03 PM

Ok Oj, your commentary gave me a headache. It's obvious that you are not opposed to Iran as a whole. And, I think you favor an alliance with the conservatives/moderates/young democrats. Thus, the only way I can make sense of your comment is that you said "Iran" when you meant "Ahmadinejad's faction". Is that correct?

If not, maybe you could 'splain a little more?

Posted by: Benny at September 18, 2007 3:42 PM

Benny: I believe oj is saying that Israel is going to attack Iran if we don't, which means we have to.

It's hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that we're going to attack Iran before next summer because Pres. Bush honestly believes that that's what's best for the US. And it's absolutely impossible to deny that every candidate for president would love him to just to have the problem taken out of their hands.

Posted by: b at September 18, 2007 3:49 PM

Luckily for Pres. Bush, it's also pretty difficult to imagine that Baby Assad & Mahmoud aren't stupid enough to give us a causus belli by next summer...

Posted by: b at September 18, 2007 3:53 PM

b, that would surprise me in that I thought OJ thought attacking Iran was a truly disasterous idea... Syria I know he wants whacked, but not Iran...

Posted by: Benny at September 18, 2007 4:12 PM

I believe the idea is that the only thing worse than our attacking Iran would be Israel attacking Iran...

Posted by: b at September 18, 2007 4:25 PM

Well, considering France's recent posturing, maybe they'll do Iran for us!!

Posted by: Twn at September 18, 2007 4:25 PM

Doesn't Occam's Razor and common sense say the Israelis are going to hit Syria?

Posted by: Benny at September 18, 2007 5:04 PM

Benny: No, or rather Not Just. Hitting Syria means you're finally recognizing that messing around with Hezbollah isn't getting you anywhere since that's avoiding taking out the real enemy, and in fact is only playing the game on their terms. And so you need to go all in, and that means hitting Iran as well.

Posted by: b at September 18, 2007 5:09 PM

What does the fact that we don't need to attack Iran have to do with whether we're going to?

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2007 5:47 PM