North Korea Smuggling Nukes to Syria and Iran?

The U.S. has quietly acknowledged that Israel did in fact bomb Syrian territory last week — apparently to take out suspected nuclear weapons installations.

After days of silence from the Israeli government, American officials confirmed Tuesday that Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes inside Syria last week, the first such attack since 2003. A Defense Department official said Israeli jets had struck at least one target in northeastern Syria last Thursday, but the official said it was still unclear exactly what the jets hit and the extent of the bombing damage.


Officials in Washington said that the most likely targets of the raid were weapons caches that Israel’s government believes Iran has been sending the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah through Syria. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah’s primary benefactors, and American intelligence officials say a steady flow of munitions from Iran runs through Syria and into Lebanon.


One Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea. The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria. “The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left,” the official said. He said it was unclear whether the Israeli strike had produced any evidence that might validate that belief. [emphasis mine]

Talk about burying your lede. This is seven “paragraphs” down in the story (I use scarce quotes because newspaper style favors incredibly short paragraphs and breaks even when the subject has not changed for ease of editing). It’s wise to be wary of assertions from unnamed officials about this sort of thing, especially when the target is those perennial bogeymen Iran and Syria but it’s hardly inconceivable that the DPRK would sell nuclear materials to our adversaries.

Spook66 is rightly skeptical that the U.S. intelligence community doesn’t know the extent of the damage from the bombings. Further, he offers (both in the post and in links to past writings) quite a bit of circumstantial evidence for believing the nuclear transfer claims.

I’d certainly prefer some course of action aside from Israeli military strikes to solve this problem, given that it automatically creates a rally effect for Syria and Iran within the Middle East. If there’s a major power commitment to aggressively pursuing this issue, let alone a consensus on handling it, though, I haven’t seen it.

Meanwhile, Stephen Green blames Bush.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    It’s wise to be wary of assertions from unnamed officials about this sort of thing, especially when the target is those perennial bogeymen Iran and Syria


  2. Cernig says:

    If the anonymous official who claimed a nuke link wasn’t from the Fourth Branch and engaged in some creative agitprop, I will eat my hat.

    Regards, C