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Israel admits carrying out 2007 Syrian 'nuclear reactor' strike for first time

22 March 2018

In a separate statement, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said the operation's successful outcome had "made it clear that Israel would not allow those who threaten our existence to have nuclear weapons".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has continues to argue without proof that Iran is on its way to producing nuclear bombs, said: "The Government of Israel, the IDF, and the Mossad prevented Syria from developing a nuclear capability".

"I don't give them the exact details of the target and its essence, but I say that there's going to be a significant attack in the upcoming 24-48 hours, an event that in low likeliness could lead to war", he said. "Imagine what situation we would be in today if there was a nuclear reactor in Syria". "Four F-16 jets eliminated a nuclear threat not only to Israel, but to the entire region".

Israel had acted before against the nuclear ambitions of its neighbours, notably in 1981 when it attacked a reactor under construction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Israeli and American intelligence had indicated that Syria's Deir Ezzor site - also known as al-Kibar - housed a gas-cooled, graphite-moderated nuclear reactor capable of manufacturing weapons-grade plutonium, and that it was almost operational when Israel destroyed it under the direction of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.

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As it happened, the event was first made public by Syria, which, as reported by Reuters at the time, said in the early hours of September 6 that Syrian air defences had repelled an incursion by Israeli warplanes.

The Syrian government's initial reaction to the bombing was to deny that the site was a nuclear facility, instead saying that the airstrike had hit a deserted military camp.

In 2008 the United States presented what it described as intelligence showing that North Korea had helped Syria with "covert nuclear activities". That was the message in 2007.

Dagan was convinced that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not retaliate - as long as he wasn't publicly humiliated.

According to Air force commander Major General Amikam Norkin, the strike has been vindicated by the conflict and chaos in Syria, as the reactor was in an area that was later under the control of Islamic State.

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For Uzi Rabi, director of Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, the fact that Israel publicises being behind the attack in 2007 in Syria is aimed at Iranian eyes or Iranian ears.

Beyond that, Netanyahu has warned that Israel will "never let Iran develop nuclear weapons".

Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister at the time of the strike, told The Associated Press that in discussions after Israel discovered the reactor, "we asked ourselves whether Israel can, or is, willing to live with this".

Images released by the IDF show the Syrian facility before (left) and after the Israeli strike in 2007.

Israel-a nuclear-armed power but not a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-argues that the facility in Syria's Deir ez-Zor region was "in its last stages of construction". He was released on parole in June of previous year after serving 16 and a half months of a 27-month sentence for corruption and obstruction of justice.

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Israel admits carrying out 2007 Syrian 'nuclear reactor' strike for first time