Ex-Mossad chief: Only ‘luck’ corrected ‘intelligence failure’ on Syria

Tamir Pardo queries Israel’s decision, 10 years after blowing up Assad’s nuclear reactor, to confirm responsibility for the strike

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo speaks at a conference in memory of his predecessor as head of the spy agency, Meir Dagan, on March 21, 2018. (Tamir Bergig)
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo speaks at a conference in memory of his predecessor as head of the spy agency, Meir Dagan, on March 21, 2018. (Tamir Bergig)

Former spy chief Tamir Pardo confirmed on Wednesday that Mossad agents were responsible for uncovering intelligence that led to the strike on a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, hours after Israel took formal responsibility for the daring raid.

“A team of Mossad agents succeeded in bringing the information in the way that it knows how. Other than that, I won’t elaborate,” he said during a conference in memory of his predecessor as head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who died in 2016.

Pardo said the discovery by the Mossad agents in mid-2006 corrected a “resounding intelligence failure,” referring to the years that elapsed before Israel knew definitively of the reactor’s existence.

“It was pure luck that this group of agents succeeded in bringing this information,” he said.

“It’s thanks to this information, and only this information, that the State of Israel was able to acquire the knowledge that allowed it [to carry out the strike] and the knowledge that there existed a reactor in Syria at all,” Pardo said.

The intelligence found by the agents was a collection of pictures taken inside the nuclear reactor, which was located in the Deir Ezzor region of northeastern Syria. The photographs confirmed Israel’s suspicions that Syria was constructing the reactor, to enrich plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Until that point, Israel had suspicions of the reactor’s existence, but lacked definitive evidence.

The Syrian al-Kibar nuclear reactor before, left, and after, right, it was destroyed by Israel, on September 6, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

That information led Israel to conduct an airstrike against the site on the night between September 5 and 6, 2007.

Pardo, who was privy to the information at the time and later served as head of the Mossad, criticized the decision to end the media blackout on the event.

“I am not sure it was right to release information about this operation now,” he said. “Maybe eight years ago, or maybe eight years from now.”

The former Mossad chief praised the prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert, and then-defense minister Ehud Barak for the operation.

“Olmert fulfilled the mission at the right time, and Ehud Barak did fantastic work,” he said.

However, Pardo harshly criticized the two leaders — though not by name — for turning the success into a “war of egos,” with each trying to take credit for the decision to strike.

“Everyone tries to diminish the actions of the other,” he said.

On Wednesday, Israel officially acknowledged that it destroyed the al-Kibar nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor, ending a decade-long ban on Israeli publications reporting on the raid.

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