Israel admits it bombed Syrian ′nuclear site′ in 2007 | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 21.03.2018
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Israel admits it bombed Syrian 'nuclear site' in 2007

Israel has confirmed it carried out a 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. It is unclear why Israel admitted the airstrike more a decade after the fact, but it might be sending a message to Iran.

The Israeli military formally confirmed for the first time on Wednesday it carried out a 2007 air raid on a suspected nuclear reactor deep inside Syria.

Israel was widely believed to have been behind the September 6, 2007 attack, but had never admitted it and censored media reports.

Eight fighter jets flew at low altitude on the secret mission against the suspected plutonium nuclear reactor in the Deir el-Zour region of eastern Syria, the military said.

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"On the night between September 5th-6th, 2007, Israeli Air Force fighter jets successfully struck and destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in development," the Israeli statement said. "The reactor was close to being completed. The operation successfully removed an emerging existential threat to Israel and to the entire region — Syrian nuclear capabilities.”

Syria is believed to have received help from North Korea in developing the reactor. Damascus has never admitted to developing a nuclear facility and was silent following the Israeli attack, saying only that its airspace had been violated. 

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Concern of war

According to documents released, Israeli officials kept quiet about the attack out of concern that Syria would retaliate and cause a war.

"As the IDF was preparing for retaliation, it decided that information about the operation shouldn't be disclosed to the general public at the time," the military said.

In 2008, US officials claimed Syria tried to develop a secret nuclear reactor that was bombed by Israel. In 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was "very likely" that the site was a nuclear reactor.

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A message to Iran? 

It is unclear why the Israeli military decided to confirm the attack now. It may be because former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who ordered the strike, has a memoir coming out soon. 

The admission may also be a message to Iran, which has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's ongoing war. Israel is concerned Iran is positioning itself to establish permanent bases and missile factories that threaten the Jewish state.

Read moreNetanyahu warns Iran: 'Do not test Israel's resolve'

Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes on targets in Syria during the war, mostly on suspected arms shipments to the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Iran is the main backer of Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Assad regime.

The daring 2007 military operation was reminiscent of an Israeli attack on a nuclear site in Iraq in 1981.

"The message from the 2007 attack on the reactor is that Israel will not tolerate construction that can pose an existential threat," military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said in a statement. "This was the message in 1981, this is the message in 2007 and this is the future message to our enemies."

In hindsight, the Israeli military said destroying the nuclear reactor may have also prevented the "Islamic State" terrorist group from acquiring nuclear material when it overran parts of Deir el-Zour during the war in Syria.

"One can only imagine how much havoc they could have wreaked with a nuclear facility in their hands," the military said.

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cw/se (AFP, AP)

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