This week, the UN identified a complex in Syria whose design has the organization concerned that the Assad regime may be developing nuclear weapons.
In a report submitted this week, IAEA officials reported several buildings in the northwest Syrian city of Al-Hasakah that are identical to a uranium enrichment facility that once existed in Libya. In addition, the organization uncovered evidence that implicated Syria in the production of uranium and plutonium. However, the buildings have been converted into a cotton-spinning factory and no evidence was found suggesting that there was ever any uranium production activity in the facility.
IAEA found other evidence regarding Syria’s nuclear aspirations. That evidence includes correspondence between Syrian officials and A.Q. Khan, the developer of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that requested Khan’s presence at the site shortly after Pakistan acquired nuclear technology in 1998. In addition, Khan reportedly visited Syria in 2004 on a scientific lecture tour and the Assad regime reported its possession of a letter from Khan in 2007.
Investigators noticed the site following an investigation into a Swiss family who were part of the Khan smuggling operation. That investigation yielded a set of plans for a facility that matches both the Syrian and Libyan facilities, even having the same parking garage design.
In 2007, Israel bombed a plutonium enrichment plant that was partially staffed by North Korean scientists. Syria denied it was pursuing nuclear technology at the time, but the similarity in the design between the bombed facility and the one uncovered this week suggests that the country may have been attempting to develop uranium and plutonium weapons at the time. In addition, Syria has prevented the IAEA from investigating the bombed site.
Syrian officials have been silent regarding the issue, although last week they refused to allow an IAEA visit to either one of the sites. However, analysts from the US have urged the IAEA to learn what they can about the site so they can understand what Syria’s intentions were, especially if they planned to produce a weapon that would put them on par with Israel, with whom it is still technically at war.