Muhammad al-Barada'i*, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday told North Korea to end its nuclear confrontation with the West, urged Iran to agree to President Obama's offer of direct talks, and asked that Syria cooperate with an IAEA investigation into that country's nuclear efforts. He even stated outright that Iran is on the path to developing nuclear weapons.
I guess it is better late than never. I was going to write, "Al-Barada'i, who never found a nuclear program in the Middle East he didn't like...." In the interest of accuracy, I have changed that to merely, "Al-Barada'i, who never found a nuclear program in the Middle East...." Now he discovers that Iran and Syria may actually be proliferation threats. However, it goes much further than he alleges.
The real axis of evil
Al-Barada'i has hit on what many Middle East analysts, myself included, have believed to be the real axis of evil - Iran, Syria and North Korea. See my earlier article for MSNBC, The real axis of evil.
These are three of the countries that bear the most watching. North Korea already has detonated a nuclear device, Iran is enriching the fissile material needed for one, and Syria was caught trying to covertly construct a nuclear reactor out in its barren deserts. What is important is that all three countries are cooperating with each other in their quests for nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them.
Syria and Iran have a defense treaty and are joined at the hip in supporting Hizballah in Lebanon, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Iran needs access to Syrian facilities for these purposes, both Syria and North Korea need money, and both Syria and Iran benefit from North Korean nuclear and missile technology.
From my experience exploiting a North Korean artillery piece captured by the Iraqis from the Iranians in 1988, North Korea builds quality military hardware. Its hardware is in the inventory of both Iran and Syria.
This is a North Korean KOKSAN 170mm self-propelled gun howitzer, in 1988 the longest-ranged artillery piece in the world. It was supplied to Iran by North Korea and captured by Iraqi forces on the al-Faw peninsula in 1988. I led a U.S. intelligence exploitation team to the al-Suwayrah artillery depot located about an hour south of Baghdad where we had full access to it. According to the U.S. Army guys, it is well designed and well built (what do I know about artillery?). The metallurgy was equally impressive.
Syria and North Korea apparently were able to thwart United Nations sanction by moving an entire nuclear reactor from North Korea to the middle of the Syrian desert - before it was bombed by the Israelis in September 2007. So much for the effectiveness of these sanctions. See my earlier article, The Israeli air strike in Syria - what the target wasn’t....
At least the IAEA is now looking at Syria a bit harder since there was more uranium recently discovered at the bombed site. As usual, the Syrians have come up with some implausible explanation, claiming it as only "one particle or two particles." See my earlier article, Syrian Uranium Mythology.
Thus far, neither the UN nor the IAEA have even slowed down the nuclear efforts of these three countries. Only military action by Israel slowed down the Syrians in 2007, just as they slowed the nuclear program in Iraq in 1981.
At some point, someone is going to have to address the nuclear capabilities and aspirations of all three countries. UN resolutions and American speeches are not going to do it.
* I am using the approved US government transliteration system for what is normally rendered as ElBaradei.