Ministers threaten Iran as details of 2007 strike on Syria emerge

Liberman warns ‘enemies’ that IDF has grown even stronger, while intelligence minister vows ‘Israel will never allow countries like Iran… to have nuclear weapons’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Current members of Israel’s security cabinet issued fresh warnings to Iran on Wednesday, hours after the country publicly acknowledged for the first time that the air force blew up a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

The official confirmation ended a 10-and-a-half-year policy of referring to the strike, known to much of the world as Operation Orchard — in the area of Deir Ezzor in the pre-dawn hours of September 6, 2007 — with a smirk and a wry “according to foreign reports.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who was minister of strategic affairs in 2007, said that “the historic and brave decision we took proved that we cannot be deterred on matters of security.

“Try to imagine what would have happened had we not acted,” Liberman tweeted. “We would be facing a nuclear Syria.”

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 9, 2017. (AP/Dan Balilty)

Hinting at Iran’s current nuclear ambitions and threats to destroy Israel, the defense minister added that “our enemies’ motivation has increased in recent years, but so has the might of the IDF… This equation should be understood by anyone in the Middle East.”

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz was more explicit, linking the Syria strike specifically to Iran.

“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 countries like Iran who threaten its existence to have nuclear weapons,” Katz tweeted.

The pilot of an F-15I fighter jet, from the Israeli Air Force’s 69th Squadron, gets into his airplane ahead of an operation to bomb a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor on September 5, 2007. (Israel Defense Forces)

MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union), who had been defense minister until he was replaced by Ehud Barak two and a half months before the operation, wrote on Facebook that the strike “demonstrated that the State of Israel will not stand helplessly and will take any action needed to eliminate an existential threat.”

Another minister, Gila Gamliel (Likud), similarly commented that “the footage from the strike on the reactor in Syria in 2007 highlights the immense power of the IDF, in an act that combined excellent intelligence and accurate attacking capabilities by the Air Force… We will not let the Iranians entrench themselves on the northern border and we won’t allow our enemies to become stronger or threaten our existence.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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