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Israeli defense chief ‘regrets’ declassifying details of 2007 strike on Syrian 'nuclear facility'

Israeli defense chief ‘regrets’ declassifying details of 2007 strike on Syrian 'nuclear facility'
Israel’s Defense Minister expressed regret for approving the release of details on the 2007 airstrike on a Syrian "nuclear reactor", calling the media fallout and officials’ rush to claim credit for the operation an embarrassment.

After a decade of censorship, on Wednesday morning Avigdor Lieberman finally decided to lift the veil of secrecy, allowing the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to release the details of the aerial mission which destroyed an alleged nuclear reactor under construction in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor back in September 2007. The decision to conduct a strike on foreign soil, according to the IAF, was based on surveillance gathered by the Military Intelligence Directorate who had been monitoring the activity at the Syrian site for two years.

After Tel Aviv finally officially admitted to “destroying a nuclear facility in its last stages of construction,” the race to claim credit for the success of the operation by senior members of the Israeli defense establishment made Defense Minister Lieberman regret his decision to declassify the details of the airstrike.

“The censor’s decision, which was brought to my approval, was based on the opinion of the most senior security officials in the IDF and Mossad,” Lieberman said on Wednesday. “The dance of demons and the waves of mutual slanders that have been taking place since the morning between former generals is irresponsible.” He called the media circus an embarrassment and views it as “an injustice to the pilots and intelligence personnel who took part in it.”

Although, in October 2007, the IDF indirectly admitted taking part in the attack by lifting some censorship on media coverage of the incident, Tel Aviv still continued to censor details of the intended target of the strike, dubbed the 'Operation Outside the Box.'

“Had it not been for the censorship activity, which has prevented the disclosure of classified information until today, serious damage to state security would have been caused. I call on everyone to show responsibility. Credits are not everything in life,” Lieberman noted, according to Walla News.

Lieberman’s harsh words were triggered by the reactions of the former Israeli establishment that was familiar with the details of the operation. Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo credited his agents with uncovering the intelligence that led to Tel Aviv’s pre-emptive measures, despite the credit being awarded to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (Aman) by the initial AIF release. Aman is one of three main entities of the Israeli intelligence community, on a par with Mossad and the Shin Bet special forces.

“There was a spectacular failure here. We’re lucky that a handful of fighters managed to bring this information which no one knew existed. We’re very lucky,” he stressed. “It was only thanks to this information that the State of Israel had the knowledge that there actually was a reactor in Syria,” Pardo said, according to Ynet news.

While taking credit for the success of the operation, Pardo, who was deputy head of Mossad during the strike, admitted he was unsure if “it was necessary to come out with the publication of the operation now.” 

Amos Yadlin, who headed the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, rejected the criticism of an intelligence failure, noting in an interview with Army Radio that his agency knew about Syria’s nuclear program already at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007.

“We couldn’t know it with certainty. Out of the puzzle we had 50 pieces out of a thousand,” Yadlin said. “Fortunately, in an extraordinary operation by our colleagues in the Mossad ... 500 puzzle pieces arrived and the picture was clarified, not at all by luck but through outstanding intelligence work.”

Meanwhile the assessment by former Defense Minister Ehud Barak contradicts all versions presented by the IAF, Yadlin and Pardo. Barak told Israel Radio that the alleged reactor was discovered by pure chance, just mere months before the complex was supposed to become operational.

Syria has been a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1968 and has always denied that it pursued a military nuclear program. The destroyed complex in Deir ez-Zor was non-operational and contained no nuclear material, according to the Syrian government.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later suggested that the site was indeed a reactor, but was under construction. The watchdog did not state that the facility threatened the global community, nor that it served military purposes.

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