The American pro-Israel community is feeling confident about the state of Israel’s military following last week’s confirmation by the Israel Defense Forces that it destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.
And experts say that was the IDF’s goal in releasing the information.
According to the confirmation, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the September 2007 airstrikes in Syria’s Deir ez-Zour region. Although this was the first time Israel publicly acknowledged the attack, it was not news to Israelis and Israel watchers, said Dan Arbell, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy and a former
“I don’t think there was a mystery as to who did it,” he said. “Nobody was shocked or surprised by the revelation, but people feel pride and support. As Israel has its 70th anniversary this year, this adds to the successes Israel can point to in the military arena.”
Arbell said he thinks the IDF timed the release of the information to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary and President Donald Trump’s upcoming decision on whether to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. He said he didn’t recall a time when Israel declassified information one decade after a clandestine event.
The timing was key in several other ways, Arbell said. He noted that Olmert took credit for the strike last week, which was meant to bolster his image on the release of his autobiography. And the seven-year Syrian civil war to Israel’s north has made Israelis appreciate the potential threat that was averted by destroying the reactor.
“The thought of the [Bashar] Assad regime having a nuclear weapons program was a horrific thought for most people,” said Guy Ziv, a professor of Israel studies at American University.
The international reaction from the revelation was largely mute. It was harsher in 1981, when Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, Ziv said, because fewer people were aware of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s willingness to use chemical weapons against his own people. Even President Ronald Reagan condemned that strike, although he later issued a mea culpa, Ziv said.
“It was something Israel had not done before,” Ziv said the of the 1981 strike. “Prior to those crimes [by Saddam Hussein], it was less clear whether or not this was the right move. The lesson learned here is that you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to prevent your enemies from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Similarly, Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein said that in confirming it was behind the attack, Israel wanted to show that it will “pre-emptively do what it needs to do to prevent a serious threat on its security.”
“I think most Americans will feel grateful that Israel has eliminated a nuclear threat from a terrorist regime [Syria],” he said.
Klein said Israel acknowledged the attack to send a message to Iran, which has nuclear ambitions of its own, that it is capable of wiping out a country’s nuclear program. He thinks the 2007 attack will help Israel gain additional respect from the rest of the world when it comes to their military. A similar phenomenon occurred during the Osirak attack, and after Israel’s defeat of its Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian enemies during the Six-Day War in 1967.
“People saw Israel was willing to take bold actions to defend people,” he said.