Israel has admitted that it bombed what is said to have been Syrian nuclear reactor over a decade ago, and today said that the strike should be a warning to Iran against pursuing its nuclear weaponry ambitions, according to Reuters.
For the first time, the Israeli army confirmed that a total of eight F-16 and F-15 fighter jets bombed a Syrian nuclear facility in Deir Ez-Zor in an operation dubbed “Out of the Box” that lasted four hours overnight on 6 September 2007, during the term of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The details of the attack were kept under an 11-year gag order, prohibiting the media from publishing restricted information.
“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. “This was our message in 2007; this remains our message today and will continue to be our message in the near and distant future.”
Whilst, Israel has never taken official responsibility before now, its involvement in the incident has long been assumed. The US was also part of the operation, as was made clear when US intelligence officials briefed Congress on their role in the attack in April 2008. Several sources in then president George W. Bush’s administration — including the president himself — have also since addressed the affair in books and interviews.
The Israeli military has now released previously classified cockpit footage, photographs and intelligence documents on the Al-Kubar facility, stating that the reactor was being built with help from North Korea and the facility had been months away from activation.
The Syrian government’s initial reaction to the bombing was to deny that the site was a nuclear facility, instead saying that the airstrike had hit a deserted military camp. In 2011, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukia Amano, contradicted those claims and asserted that the target destroyed by Israeli warplanes was the covert site of a future nuclear reactor.
After the bombing, Syria refused to allow IAEA inspectors to access the bombed site, heightening suspicions among the international community. In the years since, the Assad regime has not responded to the allegations, maintaining that it was a closed military facility.
Israel’s decision to go public with the details of the incident, comes after repeated calls in recent months by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the US and international community to take tougher action on Iran, Syria’s ally.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz took to Twitter to reflect on the implications of the revelations to current tensions: “The courageous decision of the Israeli government almost 11 years ago to destroy the nuclear reactor in Syria and the successful operation following it sends a clear message: Israel will never allow nuclear weapons to countries like Iran who threaten its existence.”
Israel has accused Tehran of seeking a permanent military presence in Syria, where Iranian-backed forces support Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the civil war.
Netanyahu has cautioned that Israel could act against Iran itself after an Iranian drone flew into Israel last month and an Israeli warplane was downed while bombing air defences in Syria. He accuses Iran of planning to build precision-guided missile factories in Lebanon, amid tensions on that border.