Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Assad’s Nuclear Ambitions

by Elliott Abrams
November 1, 2011

The extent of the Assad regime’s nuclear ambitions became even clearer this week. It turns out that in addition to buying a plutonium production reactor from North Korea, Syria was also working on a uranium reactor procured from the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan.

Thus Syria was trying two separate routes to get a bomb.

This revelation is further evidence of why the United States and all of Syria’s neighbors will benefit by the demise of the Assad regime. Far from being a quiet little dictatorship that did not bother its neighbors, Syria under Bashar al-Assad intervened repeated and murderously in Lebanon, did all it could to help jihadis kill Americans in Iraq, and had under way a dual-track nuclear program that would have been tremendously destabilizing to the region had it not been stopped.  Given how little was known about the plutonium reactor until 2007, and about the uranium reactor until much more recently, it is possible that there are other sites and other aspects of the program.  We’ll find it all out, and put an end to it all, only when Syria is free of the Assad regime and has a new government that is fully cooperative with the IAEA.

The discovery of additional Assad regime nuclear work should put an end to the foolish arguments that that regime was a source of stability in the region. We’ve heard them again this year: as one Washington Post story from May of this year reported,

“the fall of President Bashar al-Assad would unleash a cataclysm of chaos, sectarian strife and extremism that spreads far beyond its borders, threatening…the entire balance of power in the volatile region, analysts and experts say.”

In 2008, the then UK Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, visited Damascus and said “Syria has a big potential role to play in stability in the Middle East….”

A better description of the Assad regime was offered in 2009 by the great scholar Fouad Ajami:

This was less an organized government than a huge criminal and financial enterprise held together by a security apparatus built around the children and in-laws of Hafez al-Assad and the intelligence barons. In Damascus, it is the rule of the Sopranos.

But the Sopranos had only small arms. The Assads were often thought to have limited ambitions but now we see that they had under way an extremely dangerous nuclear program. The end of the regime will end that activity once and for all, and it is yet another reason to hope that moment comes soon.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Nervana

    Very true. But who knows what the next regime ambition would be ?

  • Posted by canadiansyrian

    I strongly believe that NOT one arab or muslem country should have any nuke , not for energy or for anything.
    the arab/muslem country with a nuke is like giving a gun to a 6 years old boy .
    if Iran gets the nuke , they will use it against the Saudi Sunnis first and then Isreal.
    had little Assad have the nuke , he will use them against the protestors.
    the west will do the arab/muslem big favour if they(the west) take out any nuclear dream .
    the next ruler of Syria should first have a peace treaty with Isreal , full peace with open borders and trade and then who cares who is going to live and control the Golan ,the Isrealis can stay there , anybody can stay there , the Syrians are sick and tired from the BS of a 40 years resistance and impirealisim slogans that made the Assads rich and in power.
    not all the 80% sunnis are islamist , the secular sunnis are the vast majority and you will find lots of people like Fareed Ghadry.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    It’s difficult to knock the financial props out from under a country like Syria when their crimminal enterprise is backed by bigger crimminals like Russia , Red China and Communist N. Korea . A military strike against their facilities can also be problematic when the safety of Syria’s dissident community must be considered .
    This is going to take a lot longer than the west would like and will involved blood-shed no matter which course we pursue .

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