The East Asian twist in the Middle East nuclear crisis

There’s never a dull moment in Middle East politics. But Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbours has taken a much more intriguing twist in recent months.

On Sept 6 last year, Israeli F-15 and F-16 warplanes secretly bombed a mysterious target in northeastern Syria. It was not until weeks later that the world got to know about this bombing, and Israel remained mum about it more than 10 days after the news broke.

Initial speculation was that the target was either (1) a cache of arms bound for Hezbollah, a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel; (2) a practice run for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities; or (3) a joint North Korean-Syrian nuclear reactor project.

Syria’s feeble response after its Jewish neighbour’s audacious invasion of its airspace and attack within its borders only increased suspicion that the third scenario — a nuclear facility — was actually in the works. Even Syria’s Arab neighbours were deafeningly silent on the bombing, when one would expect them to be outraged over this attack on their Arab brethren. Judging from the nature of inter-Arab politics, they — Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular — must have been secretly pleased that Israel removed this threat from their backyard.

The issue was revived again in last Thursday when the US openly accused Syria of building a secret nuclear reactor with North Korea’s help. Some have accused the US of using this as a negotiating ploy with North Korea. Predictably, Syrian diplomats angrily refuted the American claims. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also expressed much unhappiness that the US and Israel did not share their intelligence with it, in order for them to send weapons inspectors to Syria to check out the facility themselves.

I feel the IAEA has the right to feel upset that it was totally sidelined and made irrelevant in this issue. But what else did they expect from Israel?

I am not a diehard supporter of the State of Israel, but I think that the action that Israel took was appropriate and necessary in this case. It already has a disaster waiting to happen with its other neighbour, Iran, and their alleged nuclear programme. It was a good move for them to have nipped Syria’s nuclear programme in the bud, before it opened up another nuclear front for them on their northeast border.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this situation pans out in the coming weeks.

See also:
Shock waves from Syria (Washington Post editorial)
IAEA chief hits out at US, Israel over Syrian reactor claims (CNA)