Nuclear Considerations

I have been contemplating a return to full-blogging mode for a while now. After all, how else can I continue to justify introducing myself as a blogger in all these conferences, lectures and workshops that I have been attending recently?

So, pomp and circumstance aside, I shall slowly try to winnow my way back to the fore over the coming weeks. A word of caution though, this blog and this entire blogging community (i.e. the Tharwa Community, not Typepad) will witness a major overhaul by yearend. I was initially hoping to hold off on a return to blogging until then, but, I guess, I can no longer ignore the “urgent” need to add my two heretical cents with regard to some of the many developments that are currently taking place in the region.

And what better start for a heretic than a nuclear one! A return with a bang, so to speak.

The nuclear issue in Syria has been going on for far longer than people are letting on. In fact, it goes back to the 80s and Assad’s Sr.’s drive for reaching strategic parity with Israel. This drive acquired a new dimension with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the realization by the Assad regime that achieving direct parity with Israel was no longer: the Syrian military was lagging far behind on important fronts and Syria lacked the necessary resources and the allies to compensate for that. As such, the new strategy that Assad put greater focused more on ongoing efforts to develop short- and medium-range missiles, increase and diversify the country’s existing chemical and biological weapons, and to attempt to import wholesale some critical components, including a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapon’s grade materials.

Assad Sr. initially hoped to acquire some necessary materials and know-how from former Soviet satellites and rogue scientists, but he soon discovered that the best that could be achieved this way was to acquire some radioactive waste that might be sufficient for constructing a few “dirty bombs,” but no more. Now, seeing that such bombs were not sufficient to serve as deterrents, Assad Sr. turned his attention elsewhere and tried to up the ante by talking to then Argentinean President Carlos Menem (who, as many know, is of Syrian stock) and convincing him to sell the Assad regime a ready-made Argentinean reactor. Indeed, the sale would have gone through had it not been for increasing pressures from the Americans at the time.

Frustrated, Assad & Co. turned their attention to the Pakistanis and North Koreans. The Pakistani link, however, despite some progress made during Benazir Bhutto’s visit to Syria in 1997 proved unreliable as Pakistani internal politics proved far too complex to navigate. The Assads had no other recourse then but to turn to North Korea.

But early contacts with the N. Koreans in this regard were interrupted on account of the transitional process that Syria witnessed between 1998 and 2001 with Bashar inheriting his father’s position as Syria’s new feudal lord. But, contacts resumed in 2002 when a rare high level N. Korean delegation paid a visit to Syria and met with Bashar and other top Syrian officials.

Still, the cooperation between the two countries in this regard was always sporadic and premised on the level of progress made by the international community in engaging the N. Koreans with regard to their own nuclear program. But it is safe to assume (on the basis of several sporadic reports concerning visits by N. Korean officials and vessels over the last two years) that the regime intensified its efforts to elicit N. Korean cooperation ever since the US-led invasion of Iraq, and especially in the aftermath of the Assads’ withdrawal from Lebanon and the launch of the UN probe into the Hariri assassination. For these developments meant that the Assads had to worry about their very survival now and not simply about achieving strategic parity with Israel (this gives a whole new meaning the word Nuclear Family, I guess).

I think that it is this intensification on part of the Assads’ that finally got the attention of US and Israeli “intelligence.”

Now, does that justify the strike?

No, it does not. After all, I am a Syrian national and Syria remains the only country whose citizenship I proudly carry, despite all the nonsense that comes with this affiliation these days, as such, I really don’t appreciate it when my country becomes a target of any military strikes, justified or otherwise. But while I condemn the Israeli attack, I cannot, for the life of me, forget or ignore those who precipitated it or give them a free pass in the name of some misguided sense of patriotism that continues to confuse the interests of the regime with those of the country. Now more than ever, it is clear to me that the interests of the Assad clan are becoming more and more sharply at odds with the national interests of Syria, and that the tensions between them are tearing the country apart. The either/or dilemma facing all Syrians is intensifying by the minute. Indeed, now more than ever, the Syrians are asked to either stand by their country and bid the Assads a belated yet necessary adieu, or stand by the Assads (or simply stand idly by, which really amounts to the same thing at this stage) and watch their country come undone.