Mysterious Syrian Facility at Least 4 Years Old


 It turns out that the alleged Syrian nuclear facility destroyed by an Israeli airstrike last month has been around for a few years. An image taken by GeoEye's IKONOS satellite on Sept. 16, 2003, and provided to U.S. News shows the suspect facility in an advanced stage of construction.

Satellite image of the suspected Syrian
nuclear facility,taken in 2003.
Euphrates River is visible to the left.
(GeoEye/SIME)The entire Syrian saga has been shrouded in secrecy, with the U.S. and Israeli governments refusing to comment about the reported airstrike. But the suspected site was identified earlier this week by David Albright, a former weapons inspector with the Institute for Science and International Security. In the first of two reports, he showed a satellite image from Aug. 10, 2007, showing the completed facility, with a nearby pumping station located on the banks of the Euphrates River. In the 2003 image, construction equipment is visible around the main building, while the pumping station had not yet been constructed.

The main building of the suspected
Syriannuclear facility,as it appeared
in 2003. (GeoEye/SIME)"We don't know what happened in between," Albright says. "There is a real shortage of commercial imagery of that part of Syria."

In Albright's second report, he displayed an image taken on Wednesday that shows an empty site, scrubbed clean of any debris.

Even with these satellite images, it remains unclear whether the facility really was a nuclear reactor. It also remains unclear whether North Korea was involved, as some have alleged.

Albright says that he still cannot be certain that the building was a nuclear facility but that it does bear many of the correct hallmarks. As for explaining why the building had been around for four years before the Israelis decided to destroy it, he suggests that perhaps "it takes a while to build a reactor in a place like Syria."

Kevin Whitelaw