The arrival at an agricultural research facility in northeastern Syria of a shipment marked "cement" earlier this month apparently set in motion a chain of events that will have international repercussions.
According to published reports, the "cement" was, in fact, a shipment of nuclear equipment from North Korea. The research being conducted at the Syrian facility close to the Turkish border was aimed at creating a nuclear device with help from both Syria's ally Iran and the rogue Communist regime in Pyongyang.
Had this effort succeeded, the consequences for both Israel and the West would have been devastating. That the Syrians -- like their friends in Tehran -- have a long-standing wish for Israel's destruction is well-known. Their close involvement with terrorists groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, is also well-documented. The prospect of Bashar Assad's regime acquiring such a weapon was appalling, as well as a reminder of how dangerous the Iran/Syria/North Korean connection has now become.
The Israeli Air Force raid on the facility (the details of which are only now beginning to be reported) was a major blow to the hopes of this alliance of hate to create a new threat to both the life of Israel and peace in the world. But while we can cheer the bravery and skill of the Israeli pilots, commandos and planners who've apparently carried off this coup -- with the same daring and precision that characterized past triumphs, such as the 1981 destruction of Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility -- this should not distract us from the clear implications of a frightening reality.
Like the 1981 raid, this may well be yet another case of Israeli audacity squelching a threat to the safety of the entire region. But unlike the episode that conclusively ended the threat of Saddam Hussein's determination to acquire nukes, the story here is a bit more complicated. Iraq acted more or less on its own (albeit with the help of the French). But Syria's actions are apparently being coordinated closely with Iran. Tehran's own nuclear intentions have been publicized, and its recent progress toward a nuclear device, whether the accounts are exaggerated or not, is a step toward Armageddon. With the considerable resources at their disposal and the help of the mad rulers of North Korea (not to mention the willingness of Russia to sell them material as well), there is little doubt that, sooner or later, the Iranians will have nuclear capability.
That is, unless they are stopped.
Unfortunately, squelching Iran's nuclear plans will not be as simple as a single daring air raid. Their nuclear facilities are spread out and undoubtedly present a much more difficult target. Any military attack on Iran, whether by Israel or the United States, will have far greater implications than a solitary foray into Syria.
That is why both Israel and the United States remain hopeful that diplomatic and economic sanctions can persuade Iran to back away from the precipice. Given the reluctance of the Western Europeans, as well as Russia, to enact tough measures, sanctions may never work. But even if these nations do the right thing and gain the support of the United Nations for such sanctions, the Syrian nuclear initiative proves that Tehran and its allies have no intention of meekly giving up their ominous plans.
Americans, who are so tired of the war in Iraq that they deplore the projection of force against Iran more than they fear Tehran's nuclear threats, must think about the implications of either Syria or Iran gaining such weaponry. The Israeli dash into Syria may have gained us all a little time, but the idea that this nightmare has been put to rest and that further action isn't needed is simply a delusion.