'Iran may try to grab Damascus's enriched uranium'

Israeli-US cooperation on Syria subject of conversation as PM meets visiting US lawmakers.

January 10, 2013 01:14
3 minute read.
Satellite view of suspect sites in Syria [file]

Satellite images of suspect sites in Syria 370 (R). (photo credit: Reuters / Handout)


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Syria may have up to 50 tons of enriched uranium, enough to create five nuclear bombs, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday, citing nuclear experts in the US and Middle East.

Up until this point, the paper pointed out, western governments have focused on the fate of Syria’s chemical stockpiles, and less on the fate of the country’s uranium, which was reportedly meant for the nuclear facility at Al-Kibar reportedly destroyed by Israel in 2007.

The Financial Times quoted David Albright, head of the US-based Institute for Science and International Security, as saying that the fears about the Syrian uranium were “legitimate.”

“There are real worries about what has happened to the uranium that Syria was planning to put into the Al-Kibar reactor shortly before the reactor was destroyed in 2007,” he said.

“There’s no question that, as Syria gets engulfed in civil war, the whereabouts of this uranium are worrying governments. There is evidence to suggest this issue has been raised by one government directly with the IAEA.”

The paper said that some government officials are concerned that Iran might be trying to get control of the uranium stockpile for its own nuclear program.

The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the report.

In recent days Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has discussed with visiting US legislators on Israeli-US intelligence cooperation regarding Syria’s chemical weapons, including images Israel passed on to the Pentagon apparently showing Syrian troops mixing chemicals and filling dozens of bombs with them, government officials said. The issue of uranium, however, is not one that is believed to have been raised.

Netanyahu met with Florida’s Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday and Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Monday, as well as a delegation on the same day of seven visiting Republican congressman, led by California’s Rep. Darrell Issa.

The New York Times on Tuesday reported that in late November, Israel’s top military commanders discussed with the Pentagon satellite imagery showing what appeared to be Syrian troops mixing chemicals – probably the nerve gas sarin – at two storage sites, and filling dozens of 500- pound bombs.

According to the report, this resulted in a “remarkable show of international cooperation” that included a public warning by US President Barack Obama, and sharp private messages to Syrian leaders through Russia, Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan that stopped the chemical mixing and bomb preparation.

In recent weeks Netanyahu has spoken on a number of occasions about the close cooperation on the matter that exists between Israel, the US, and “other countries” on the matter.

In mid-December the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement following a meeting with Texas senator-elect Ted Cruz, underlining the chemical weapons issue.

Netanyahu, according to the statement, told Cruz, “We’re monitoring very closely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. President Obama has spoken forcefully about this. Israel and the United States have close consultations about this issue and it highlights the dangers of these regimes receiving such weapons, and that these weapons can even go from there to terrorist organizations.”

“This is a threat to Israel, a threat to America, a threat to others in this region. We treat it accordingly.”

That Netanyahu stressed this issue, and that his office at the time decided to release his comments to the media, underscored heightened sensitivity to the issue at the time in light of the unending bloodshed and growing chaos in Syria.

Explaining Netanyahu’s comment, the government official said it was important that “all the actors in Syria understand that this is a very sensitive issue not only for Israel, but for the entire international community.” He said “irresponsible behavior” with the chemical weapons would not be tolerated.

The official, without elaborating at the time, but in hindsight apparently referring to the intelligence information that was passed on, said, “We were not speaking this way two or three weeks ago,” and that there were “reasons for our concerns.”

On Tuesday the official said that the close US-Israel coordination on the matter is continuing, “because the problem is continuing.”

Netanyahu reportedly held secret discussions in Jordan in late December concerning the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons.

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