JERUSALEM, Israel – More than a decade after Israeli pilots destroyed a Korean-built nuclear reactor in Syria, Israel declassified top secret documents Wednesday detailing the operation.
After failing to convince former US President George Bush and his administration of the danger posed by the Syrian nuclear plant, Israel decided to act on its own.
Shortly before midnight on September 5, 2007, the Israel Air Force deployed eight jet fighters to take out the reactor.
The mission was successful, the facility destroyed and the pilots returned safely to their base.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot shares his perspective on the 2007 bombing that destroyed Syria's nuclear reactor before it came online. Eisenkot was GOC of the Northern Command at the time, responsible for Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon.
Dr. Ronen Bergman, author of "Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations," told journalists in a conference call organized by The Israel Project that despite their close relationship, Mossad chief Meir Dagan was unable to convince his US counterpart, CIA chief Michael Hayden, to strike the nuclear facility.
Dagan was convinced that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not retaliate – as long as he wasn't publicly humiliated. The CIA argued he would call for all-out war.
Dagan's assessment proved right and the CIA's wrong.
Bergman explained that Israeli Intelligence officials convinced then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that if Israel did not take responsibility for the strike or publicize it – a move that would have humiliated Assad before his Middle Eastern counterparts and forced him to react, he would not. That proved to be true.
Asked why Israel finally decided to lift the gag order on the operation, Bergman cited two main reasons.
First because most of the details were already known outside of Israel there was no longer any need to keep it secret.
Second declassifying the information would send an important message: "That when Israel is left alone, it reacts, and with extreme force."
Bergman agrees there are similarities between what happened then and Iran's attempts today to embed its forces in Syria.
In 2007, Israel asked the US to fulfill its commitment to Israel's security by striking the reactor. Today, Israel is asking the US to exercise its leverage on Russia to convince Iran to back off in Syria. Israel sees an Iranian presence in Syria as its main strategic threat today.
According to Bergman, Israeli officials are "extremely frustrated" by the Trump administration's lack of engagement. He says for all intents and purposes, "the US has evacuated the Middle East."
But the bottom line, Bergman stressed, is that Israel will always do what it has to do.
"The message is that when Israel is left alone, it would react and as it reacted and used force 11 years ago and destroyed the North Korean facility in Syria, it would do so again today and destroy any Iranian attempt to further deploy military forces, guerilla forces [and] Hezbollah forces in Syria."