Olmert struck Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 immediately after Bush refused to do so

‘If you’re not going to act against the reactor, then we are,’ PM told president, says advisor Elliot Abrams. Then, as now on Iran, the US favored diplomacy

Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007.(AP/DigitalGlobe)
Before and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007.(AP/DigitalGlobe)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert ordered the 2007 strike on a Syrian nuclear reactor immediately after former US president George W. Bush informed him that the Americans would not attack the facility, according to a Channel 10 report aired on Sunday evening.

Bush’s deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams was present when the president called Olmert on September 6, 2007 and made clear that the US would not take action, and that then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice would fly to Israel to hold a joint press conference with Olmert to alert the international community of the secret reactor. The US had decided to handle the Syrian threat via diplomacy.

Olmert responded to Bush that the secretary’s visit would not be necessary and that Israel would deal with the nuclear facility on its own.

“If you’re not going to act against the reactor then we are,” Abrams quoted Olmert as saying during the teleconference. “You don’t want to know where or when,” the former prime minister reportedly added.

The Israelis were convinced that time was fairly short, and that they had to strike the reactor — built by the Syrians with extensive input from the North Koreans — before it went live, the TV report said.

Israel has never claimed responsibility for the strike, named Operation Orchard, which occurred shortly after midnight on the same day. And Syria has never acknowledged that its nuclear reactor was destroyed.

According to Abrams, three hours after the strike, Olmert called the former US president and spoke briefly regarding the mission.

“I did what was necessary,” Abrams quoted Olmert as saying. To which Bush simply replied, “I thank you.”

According to the Channel 10 report, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was initially against the strike, possibly because of personal political considerations. However, the only minister who actually voted against taking out the reactor was Avi Dichter.

Dozens of Syrians were killed in the strike, as well as 10 North Koreans who were presumably helping with technical aspects of the secret facility, the TV report said.

The TV report was broadcast amid reports in recent days that Israel is considering a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. In contrast to the public silence before the Syrian strike, and before Israel’s 1981 raid that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s reactor at Osirak, however, the question of whether Israel should resort to military intervention against Iran’s nuclear facilities has been the subject of feverish public debate for months.

With Iran as with Syria, however, the Americans are urging that more time be given to diplomacy, and the Israelis are stressing the urgent imperative for action.



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