The Israeli military has formally acknowledged for the first time its destruction of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, saying the airstrike removed a major threat to Israel and was a “message” to others.
Israel’s announcement on March 21, 2018, about Operation Out of the Box was widely seen as a veiled warning to archenemy Iran as it builds up its military presence in Syria.
Israel has warned against the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, particularly in areas close to Israel, and in February 2018, it shot down an Iranian drone that it said entered its airspace.
“The message from the attack on the nuclear reactor in 2007 is that the state of Israel will not allow the establishment of capabilities that threaten Israel’s existence,” Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizencot, said.
“This was our message in 2007, this remains our message today, and will continue to be our message in the near and distant future,” he said.
Israel’s decision to go public and justify the decade-old strike against Syria comes after repeated calls in recent months by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the United States and the international community to take tougher action against Iran, which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that Israel will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon — “not now, not in 10 years, not ever” — or to build missile factories in Syria that could threaten Israel, or provide advanced weapons for Hizballah, the Iran-backed Shi’ite group in Lebanon.
Throughout Syria’s seven-year civil war, Israel has carried out well over 100 air strikes, most believed to have been aimed at suspected weapons shipments destined for Hizballah forces operating alongside Assad’s forces in Syria.
Iran did not immediately respond to Israel’s warning and disclosure about its previous strike against the Syrian facility.
The Israeli military’s announcement was accompanied by the release of newly declassified materials, including photographs and cockpit video said to show the moment that an airstrike destroyed the Al-Kubar facility in the desert near Deir al-Zor, an area that was later overrun by the Islamic State extremist group.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it was “very likely” that the site “was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared.”
Syria, a signatory of the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has always denied that the site was a reactor or that Damascus engaged in nuclear cooperation with North Korea, which is believed to have supplied the reactor.