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Israel planned 1991 strike on North Korea-Syria ship

Israeli agents prepared to strike a ship suspected of smuggling missiles from North Korea to Syria in 1991 but cancelled it at the 11th hour under US pressure, a Japanese newspaper reported yesterday.Undercover agents of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency secretly attached a guidance system for an airstrike on a cargo vessel believed to be carrying 23 short-range Scud missiles to Syria, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.The Yomiuri, reporting from Jerusalem, said it spoke to one of the agents involved in the operation, whose name was transliterated into Japanese as Michael Ross.Ross said he and two colleagues disguised themselves as workers for shipping carriers and headed to Casablanca, Morocco.In February 1991, they managed to get close to the ship, which was believed to be jointly owned by Syrian and Jordanian firms, and swam underneath it to set up equipment to guide an airstrike, the report said.Israel had planned to destroy the vessel and missiles, which with a range of 500 kilometres (300 miles) would put the Jewish state at risk.The incident came during the first Gulf War, during which the United States, managing a coalition with Arab states including Syria, pressured Israel not to respond to Scud missile attacks by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.The Yomiuri said Israel's then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir called off the airstrike on the North Korean missiles at the last minute."Probably the prime minister gave up on the plan out of consideration to the United States," Ross was quoted as telling the Yomiuri."If we blew up the vessel, it would have been inevitable to have many Syrian casualties and it might have been taken as a declaration of war against Syria," he was quoted as saying.Impoverished North Korea, one of the few non-Muslim states that has no relations with Israel, is believed to rely on weapons exports as one of its top money-makers.

In September Israel launched an air strike in Syria, which Western media reports said targeted a nuclear facility developed with North Korea.