Media Line Staff
The Media Line
April 24, 2008 - 5:49pm

A CIA briefing to members of Congress about Syria’s nuclear capabilities is causing tension in Jerusalem, which is rumored to be engaged in negotiations with Damascus over the Golan Heights.  

The Bush administration is presenting lawmakers with proof that the Syrian facility Israel is suspected of having bombed last September was, indeed, a nuclear weapons facility being built with the assistance of North Korea. 

Since the raid, neither the U.S. nor Israel has been willing to confirm Israel's role or provide details. 

CIA Director Michael Hayden plans to show legislators video revealing North Korean personnel inside the reactor site and providing visual proof that the facility itself is identical to the Yongbyon reactor in North Korea. 

The administration plans briefings for both House and Senate intelligence, armed services and foreign relations committees. 

Reports out of Jerusalem indicate Israeli leaders are uneasy about the Bush administration's plans to release the information. 

They fear the public focus on the raid will further embarrass the Syrians – who are livid at the plans to reveal the information – perhaps to the point where they make good on promises to retaliate against Israel as they promised at the time of the raid. 

The Israelis are also concerned that in revealing details of the raid certain top secret military information could be compromised. 

Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, a member of Knesset - the Israeli parliament - from the ruling Qadima party, told The Media Line he did not think the Americans would reveal anything that would compromise Israel’s security, but expressed concern about details that might be leaked to the media.  

“There was prior coordination between the Americans and Israel about what would be said,” Ben Yisrael said. If Israel is implicated in involvement in September’s attack, it is unlikely to harm Israel’s security, but any details that are leaked could do damage. Ben Yisrael serves on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and is a member of Prime Minister Olmert's party.

The briefing coincides with rumors in the Israeli media that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is engaged in negotiations with Syria about giving Damascus the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.  

Syrian cabinet Minister Butheina Sha’aban confirmed to Al-Jazeera on Wednesday that the offer to withdraw from the Golan Heights was put forward to Damascus through Turkish mediation. 

The Golan is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon and Syria spanning an area that fits more than twice into Rhode Island. Israel captured the Golan from the Syrians in 1967 and soon sent Israelis to populate the area.  

The Golan is an important asset for Israel because of its natural and strategic benefits, particularly in water resources and security.   

It is currently home to an estimated 35,000 people, half of whom are Druze.  

Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. The United Nations views the Golan as land occupied by Israel.  

Any confirmation that Israel was involved in last September’s attack could hamper ongoing communication between Syria and Israel. 

There does not appear to be any connection between the hearing and the rumors of negotiations. 

Israelis are worried that giving the Golan to Syria, a country closely aligned with Iran and with Hizbullah, could compromise the country’s security and water sources. Members of Olmert’s party have been among those outspoken against the idea of abandoning the Golan. 

One of the critics, MK Zeev Elkin, said that since there have been no denials on either the Israeli or the Syrian side about an offer by Israel to withdraw from the Golan, it is likely that the rumors are true.  

“From my knowledge of the political map, the prime minister does not have the legislative support required to make a move like this,” he told The Media Line.  

He said these would cause unnecessary high expectations on the Syrian side, which would likely not likely be met and this could cause an escalation in the security situation.  

“When the other side sees that a promise is not being fulfilled, it will turn to other channels,” he said.  

However, Ben Yisrael said he believed this was not the prevailing thought in the Qadima party, and it was unlikely to cause a crisis within the party. 

“The thinking within the party is that first you talk but don’t do anything until you are positive you can trust the other side,” he said. 

Ben Yisrael said Syria would first have to end its support for Hizbullah and expel senior members of the Palestinian terror organizations like Hamas before striking a peace deal. 

Incidentally, Ehud Olmert and his wife Alisa are spending their Passover holiday at an undisclosed location in the Golan Heights.


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