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Occupied Arab World

Now Syria the target of unsubstantiated US accusations and propaganda

Ahmad Musa

In 2003 the US invaded Iraq on the basis of a fabricated threat of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs), backed up by the dubious misinterpretation of intelligence materials. Last year, the US’s military intelligence community effectively vetoed a White House and administration plan to attack Iran using similarly dubious claims about its nuclear program. Last month we had a case of deja-deja-vu, when the State Department presented Congress and the world with intelligence materials supposedly showing that a building in Syria destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in September was in fact an illegal nuclare reactor being built by the Syrian military with the help of the North Koreans. Outside America, at least, there was widespread scepticism about the claims, which was echoed even by some within the US establishment.

The administration presentations were based on a 10-minute video showing satellite images and two photographs which allegedly showed the inside of the building. Administration officials said the contents of the building “looked like” a gas cooled graphite moderator like the one that the North Koreans are known to have at Yongbyon. According to the White House, this proves that the building was the base for a clandestine nuclear program intended to develop a plutonium bomb.

Analysts were generally sceptical, however, pointing out that the evidence was sketchy at best. The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Jonathon Marcus, pointed out that there was no sign of the associated facilities that such a project would require. “If [the claims are true]”, he said, “where are the other facilities that would be needed for such a project: a plutonium separation plan or a centre to actually assemble such a weapon?”

Some also questioned whether the claims could be believed at all, considering the US’s record. One theory put forward was that the Israelis bombed the building as part of their on-going dispute with Syria, with the US then coming up with the idea of using the attack as the basis for fresh propaganda against Syria once it became clear that the propaganda war against Iran had to be toned down after the Pentagon’s intervention in the autumn. This is of course pure speculation, based on the US’s past record; but it has as much reliable supporting evidence as the US’s own claims about Syria developing nuclear weapons.

Such is the loss of the administration’s credibility that even members of Congress questioned the administration’s motives for releasing the intelligence, and by extension its reliability. In Washington, most scepticism was based on the timing of the release of the intelligence, which came on April 24, the day before diplomatic talks with North Korea over its nuclear program were due to begin. Analysts pointed out that hawks in the administration, led by vice president Dick Cheney, had been trying to prevent the signing of an agreement at these talks, and may have hoped that the release of these claims would sabotage any such agreement. The fact that Congressmen in Bush’s own party raised such questions shows how discredited the administration has become.

However, it is the implications for the situation in the Middle East that is perhaps most worrying. Hawks in the administration have long argued that Syria is an easier target than Iran, which they can attack at any time they wished in order to put pressure on both Iran and the Hizbullah in Lebanon. It is therefore reasonable to suspect that these claims are part of this process, and may represent the first step of an intensification of pressure on Syria.

Considering that Israel is clearly preparing for another war in Lebanon this summer, partly to redeem its defeat at the hands of Hizbullah in 2006, and that the neo-cons in the Bush administration would still like a foreign policy “success” to mark the end of their term in office, the fears must be that Syria is facing an attack by one or both sometime soon.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 3

Rabi' al-Thani 25, 14292008-05-01

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