WASHINGTON -- The Sept. 6 attack by Israeli warplanes inside Syria struck what Israeli intelligence believes was a nuclear-related facility that North Korea was helping to equip, according to current and former American and Israeli officials.
The details about the Israeli assessment emerged as China abruptly canceled planned diplomatic talks in Beijing that were intended to set a schedule to disband nuclear facilities in North Korea.
The Bush administration has declined to comment on the Israeli raid, but American officials were expected to confront the North Koreans about their alleged support for Syria during those talks.
The officials said the Israeli government notified the Bush administration about the planned attack just before conducting the raid. It is not clear whether U.S. officials expressed support for the action.
The Israeli intelligence remains highly classified. But current and former American and Israeli officials who have received briefings from Israeli sources said yesterday that the raid was an attempt by Israel to destroy a site that Israel believed to be associated with Syria's rudimentary nuclear program.
The allegations come at a particularly delicate time, with the United States and several Asian countries testing whether North Korea is serious about dismantling its nuclear production facilities and providing a full accounting of its nuclear facilities, fuel and weapons.
At the same time, Israel is wary of complicating continuing peace talks involving other countries in the Middle East about the future of the Palestinian state. In particular, the Bush administration has not decided whether Syria will be invited to a Middle East peace conference that is supposed to be held in Washington in November.
The Sept. 6 strike came several days after a ship with North Korean cargo tracked by Israeli intelligence docked in a Syrian port, according to the current and former officials. The cargo was transferred to the site that Israel then attacked, the officials said. It is unclear what exactly was contained in the shipment.