Expert: ‘Nuclear reactor in Syria was actually an Iranian asset’

Analysts take a hard look at the Israeli admission of 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear reactor, and its message for Iran.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

After acknowledging for the first time that the Israeli air force blew up a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, current members of the security cabinet issued fresh warnings to Iran on Wednesday that its nuclear weapons program is not immune from attack.

The official confirmation ended a decade long policy of referring to the strike by always saying, “according to foreign reports.” Now details of “Operation Orchard” have emerged and the attack on the facility in Deir Ezzor has been acknowledged and holds a message for Iran.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “the historic and brave decision we took proved that we cannot be deterred on matters of security.” Liberman, who was minister of strategic affairs in 2007 tweeted, “Try to imagine what would have happened, had we not acted. We would be facing a nuclear Syria.” Alluding to Iran’s current nuclear ambitions and threats to destroy Israel, the defense minister added, “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.”

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Linking the Syria strike to Iran, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said, “The courageous decision of the Israeli government  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,”

‘Israel will not stand by helplessly’

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

Dr. Mordechai Kedar from Bar Ilan University told World Israel News that in all likelihood, the nuclear reactor in Syria was actually an Iranian asset that was placed on Syrian territory because they thought it would be safer from attack. “The project was sponsored by Iran with the technical know-how provided by North Korea. The Syrians allowed it, but the Iranians paid for it. Tehran was already under pressure and hostile scrutiny in 2007. In my view they moved parts of their nuclear program to Syria where there were no suspicions of nuclear ambitions and where secrets could be kept.”

Iranian affairs expert Meir Javadanfan told WIN, “The Persian media has been shut down due to the new year holiday in Iran so there has not been media reaction to the Syria report. But what does it matter. The Iranians knew immediately that it was an Israeli attack. They had a great deal of concern at that time and feared an Israeli strike could follow. This attack proved that Israel has deep intelligence capabilities in Syria and elsewhere and that raised concerns.” According to Javadanfan the level of Iranian concern has lessened since the signing of the nuclear agreement signed with world powers. “I don’t think the Israeli admission has changed much for the Iranians,” he said.

A message of deterrence

Veteran Israeli diplomat Ambassador Yoram Ettinger told WIN, “Israeli confirmation resends a message of deterrence which was received in Iran at the time of the operation, which unofficially has always been attributed to Israel. We have reiterated the capabilities of the IDF in general and the air force in particular.” Ettinger said details released on the attack may give Iran some new operational problems to consider. “Iran must understand that Israel operates in an unconventional manner and may act from unpredictable directions. We hit Syria from the direction of Turkey. If we should decide to attack Iranian targets, it may come from the direction of an Iranian neighbor and not necessarily straight from Israel. The bottom line is that the message has already been received in Iran.”

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Dr. Efraim Inbar who heads the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies told WIN that striking Iranian facilities can be much more difficult, “The Syrian strike sends a message to all that Israel is ready to take risks and takes threats seriously. But Iranian circumstances are different. There is the physical distance to Iran. The facility in Syria was unknown to the world and therefore the attack on the facility went relatively unnoticed, Inbar said.

Inbar also pointed out the significance of different political leadership in Israel. According to Inbar, “Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was willing to take a risk and act. Netanyahu has thus far been great on rhetoric but short on action. Details of the story may actually embolden Netanyahu because the tradition of taking out enemy nuclear facilities was started by Menachem Begin in Iraq, then Olmert in Syria. Precedents have been set for all to see. Netanyahu would not want to be remembered as the leader who failed to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions.”