Another suspected nuclear installation has been identified in Syria, according to the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which published satellite pictures in a report released yesterday. The site, located near the town of Marj as Sultan and reportedly intended for processing uranium, is expected to be functionally related to the covert reactor construction project at al Kibar destroyed by Israel in 2007. This is the third site identified in Syria thought to be connected to al Kibar.
The facility’s current operational status is unknown, and there is suspicion that Syria may have taken steps to disguise previous activities at the site in 2008 after the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requested to visit. Damascus rejected the IAEA’s request.
A close-up view of the two main process buildings at Syria’s Marj as Sultan site.
In fact, Syria has prevented IAEA inspectors from visiting since 2008, in which they were only allowed access to the site of the destroyed al Kibar reactor after Damascus buried the foundation that remained after the bombing, poured a new foundation, and constructed a new building to hide any remains. The IAEA still recovered traces of processed uranium during the visit.
“With no substantial cooperation from Syria, the IAEA’s Director General should clearly conclude that Syria may have egregiously violated its safeguards agreement and call for a special inspection of these four sites,” the ISIS report stated. However, current IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has cautioned against the move, saying it would distract attention from the more pressing issue of Iran. “This case (Syria) is very different to that of Iran. Iran’s activity is continuing,” Amano told Reuters in a February 1 interview.
True, but ignoring Syria would be a mistake. While Israel’s 2007 bombing likely halted Damascus’ attempt at nuclear weapons, there’s no telling what Syria plans to do in the future. Gaining access to Syria this year may not only deter future aspirations, it may also strengthen the power of the IAEA, which has lost credibility over the years in failing to appropriately handle North Korea and Iran’s nuclear weapons programs.