More than decade later, Israel confirms strike on Syrian nuclear site

TEL AVIV, Eliyahu Kamisher (dpa)- After years of secrecy, the Israeli army confirmed on Wednesday it had conducted a 2007 military strike on what was believed to be Syrian nuclear reactor.
The Israeli army said that four F16 jets bombed a Syrian nuclear facility near Deir al-Zour, 450 kilometres north-east of Damascus, in a four-hour stealth operation on September 5-6, 2007.
The attack, dubbed "Outside the Box" by military command, was long accepted as fact, but was never officially confirmed by Israel.

"The message from the attack on the nuclear reactor in 2007 is that the state of Israel will not allow the establishment of capabilities that threaten Israel's existence," said Israeli army chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot.
Eizenkot, who commanded Israel's northern front at the time, said the strike was the most significant Israeli attack in Syria since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
It was a continuation of Israel's policy to prevent Middle East countries from obtaining nuclear weapons. In 1981, Israel struck an Iraqi nuclear reactor as part of this policy. Today, there are warnings of an Israel-Iranian showdown about Tehran's nuclear programme and the Iranian presence in Syria.
"This was our message in 2007, this remains our message today and will continue to be our message in the near and distant future," Eizenkot added.
It is unclear why the army chose to disclose the information now. Some speculate it could be a warning to Iran or be timed to coincide with the upcoming release of a memoir of Ehud Olmert, who served as prime minister during the strike.
Despite being widely reported in international media and even directly referred to in a memoir by former US President George W Bush, Israel maintained a veil of secrecy around the strike to prevent an escalation with Syria, said Amos Yadlin, who served as Israel's chief of military intelligence during the strike.
"The most interesting concept was pushing [al-]Assad to the deniability space," Yadlin told reporters, "If Israel will not take responsibility, there is a chance that [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad will deny that Israel even attacked."
Syria confirmed that Israeli jets entered Syrian airspace at the time of the attack, but did not offer any details on the Israeli targets.
Yadlin said the low chance of retaliation by al-Assad, who is mired in a civil war, is likely one reason why Israel chose to divulge the strike now.
Months after the strike, Syria denied that they were building nuclear capabilities at the Dier al-Zour site, but the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the destroyed building "was very likely a nuclear reactor."
According to the Israeli army, the reactor was months away from being operational, prompting the army to strike and destroy the facility.
Documents released by the army indicate they suspected North Korea, Pakistan, and possibly a third country of assisting in the construction of the reactor.
"The motivation of our enemies has increased in recent years, but the strength of the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] has increased," Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.
"This equation is worthwhile for everyone in the Middle East to internalize," he added.
Under cover of night, the jets took off at 10:30 pm, flying low to avoid detection and returning at 2:30 am.
"It is midnight, the moon is shining, thin with almost no light," one of the pilots recounted in a statement released by the army.
"I see from afar two points of light, the structure is before us, coming in for the attack," the pilot said, adding, it was a "direct hit."

Wednesday, March 21st 2018
Eliyahu Kamisher (dpa)

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