Friday, April 25, 2008

Syrian reactor?

Yesterday's testimony about what exactly our intelligence community thinks it was that Israel bombed in Syrian last Fall was pretty interesting. The timing of this announcement, half a year after the events in question, raises questions about what motivates this testimony now. Juan Cole nicely sums up the various hypotheses about what may have prompted the Bush administration to send these guys up to the Hill.

The real question is the timing of the announcement, since the bombing happened a long time ago. It is suspicious to me that the announcement was made just after a spy for Israel was arrested in the US who had stolen US nuclear secrets. Is it diversionary?

Syria expert Josh Landis discusses a different theory of diversion, having to do with revelations that Syria and Israel are closer to an agreement on the future of the Golan Heights.

I'd add that former president Jimmy Carter's recent trip to meet with Hamas leaders has put pressure on Israel to come back in a serious way to the negotiating table. Also Hamas's own apparent change in stance on diplomacy, as Helena Cobban discusses.

Bush's own remarks Thursday that he is seeking a viable Palestine that does not look like Swiss cheese revealed some of what the administration must have been pressing the Israelis on in recent months in preparation for Bush's trip in May.

So the timing of the Syria reactor announcement does seem suspicious in Middle East terms. If the US doesn't in fact think there is any evidence that the reactor had weapons implications, then it is really a non story, and releasing it can only be for hoopla reasons.

To update Mark Twain for the Age of Bush: "Lies, damned lies, and unclassified intel briefings for Congress."

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