"Secret" Syria strike helps Israel signal resolve on Iran

JERUSALEM Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:31am EDT

Related Topics

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli cabinet minister on Tuesday invoked his country's ostensibly secret 2007 air raid on an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor to suggest Israel could successfully strike Iran without U.S. support.

Israel has never formally acknowledged the bombing of the desert site at Deir al-Zor nor said what was destroyed - a precaution against drawing Syria into a retaliatory war, according to then-U.S. President George W. Bush, who in his memoir described the target as a nascent, North Korean-supplied reactor.

That Bush, by his own account, declined to carry out a U.S. strike as initially requested by Israel resurfaced this week in an expose by the New Yorker magazine. It touched a topical nerve given current tensions between the allies over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hints he could defy Washington by taking similar action against Iran's disputed nuclear program.

"According to what was reported, then, too, President Bush was not enthused by an attack, did not agree to the United States taking part, and in any event the right step was taken," Environment Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio.

Erdan, a influential member of the ruling, rightist Likud party, was answering a question about whether Israel could afford to deepen its rift with the United States, which has resisted Netanyahu's demand for a "clear red line" beyond which it would be willing to resort to force on Iran.

The Netanyahu government has made clear Israel is prepared to attack unilaterally if necessary, despite divided domestic opinion and Western calls to give diplomacy with Tehran more time. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, as did Syria in 2007.

As noted by the New Yorker, differences abound between the single, exposed structure hit by Israel in neighboring Syria and the numerous, distant and defended Iranian facilities.

LIMITS OF SECRECY

The unprecedented public debate in Israel about prospects for a war with Iran further limits comparison with Syria in 2007 and the sneak Israeli bombing of Iraq's atomic reactor in 1981.

Israeli officials insist they have the technical means to surprise Iran, and that their reticence about Deir al-Zor exists, in part, to preserve such secrets.

But they have also bristled at statements from within the Obama administration questioning whether Israel has the capabilities to cause significant damage to Iran, and countered by invoking the previous missions in Iraq and Syria.

"The mistake then, as now, was to underestimate Israel's military ingenuity," Amos Yadlin, one of the fighter-bomber pilots who took part in the 1981 operation and went on to command Israeli military intelligence during the Deir al-Zor attack, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in February.

He referred to "the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007" - straying from Israel's no-comment policy.

Asked by Reuters when Israel might give an on-record account of what happened at Deir al-Zor, dropping its censorship order, a defense official said there was no such decision pending.

But the official also indicated Israel no longer feels the same reluctance to offend Damascus, having written off President Bashar al-Assad as a 17-month-old Syrian insurgency deepens.

"Can you imagine what the mess in Syria would look like today if Assad had nukes?" the official said.

Syria does acknowledge having chemical weapons, developed partly to counter Israel's reputed atomic arsenal.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (11)
JonasCaldwell wrote:
If Israel attacks Iran, most of the arab world will be on the side of Iran and against Israel and its supporters. Better think twice before threatening others …

Sep 11, 2012 5:04pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
tiggerooh wrote:
And if Israel doesn’t attack what signal does that send to the Iran government .They will continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons and where will that put the middle east then.Thusfar only Pakistan has them and that is already a dangerous situation .Or has everyone forgotten where the leader of Al quida was living for the past 7 yrs.
Our best bet is withdraw all our troops from the middle east and let the arab countries do their thing —they been doing it for thousands of years .And we should support our only ally there— Israel.

Sep 13, 2012 4:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
lazerous200 wrote:
The US cannot afford to get involved in a war with Iran. If Israel strikes first then let them suffer the consequences. We should pursue a diplomatic solution. Iran may just be telling the truth and pursuing nuclear power for peaceful means. We don’t need another Iraq debacle.

Sep 13, 2012 5:39pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Pictures