Wretchard reflects on the significance of the Syrian nuclear reactor destroyed by Israel. The UN seems to have been unaware of it:
First the Al Kibar reactor, unlike Iraq’s Osirak, was designed to be covert from first to last. Did the IAEA at any time have any definite knowledge of Al Kibar? If it so, did the IAEA warn the United Nations about Syria’s covert program? Second, if the Al Kibar was unknown to the UN, how much confidence should the world repose in is ability to detect covert nuclear weapons development?
And, what was its purpose? What was Syria trying to accomplish?
A cursory take on Al Kibar is that it could only have hoped to produce a handful of nuclear weapons before discovery. Therefore it can be inferred that the WMD programs of Syria, Iran and Iraq’s Osirak were premised upon the possession of a relatively few number of WMDs. Logic suggests then that they were constructing them as “insurance” weapons: deterrents against Western interference under whose protection they could advance their terrorist forces without hindrance. In other words, the implied doctrine of the WMD programs was that they were there to protect their terrorist strike arms.
Maybe, and that’s bad enough. Possession of nuclear weapons may ensure that states such as Iran and Syria can pursue terrorist activities with impunity. But two other possibilities suggest themselves.
First, it wouldn’t take much nuclear material to destroy Israel. (It’s slightly smaller than New Jersey.)
Second, the goal may not have been to put nuclear material, officially, in the hands of the Syrian government, but to get it to terrorist organizations. Some left-wing commentators have pointed out that Syria is not known to have a sophisticated missile development program. Missiles can be bought, of course, but the real point may have been small-scale nukes or dirty bombs that could be used by terrorists. Perhaps Syria thought it could produce such material without detection. Or perhaps the strategy is simply to have multiple sources of such material. If Iran were to become the only possible source of a dirty bomb used in a terror attack, it’s relatively easy for Israel or the United States to respond. If the material could have come from any of several different sources, however, it could be very difficult to pinpoint the source with any confidence. That would make a response less likely, and deterrence therefore less effective.