As we mark Israel’s 60th birthday today (May 14), people across the world can, once again, breathe a collective sigh of relief thanks to the Jewish State. Last September, a handful of Israeli fighter jets conducted a pre-dawn raid in which they destroyed what the Israelis claimed was a nuclear facility in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria close to the Turkish border. Recently, CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the facility, termed Al Kibar, was mere weeks away from being operational and could have, in the first year of operation, “produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons."
A few months prior to the strike, the Israelis had managed to acquire aerial and ground-based photographs of the facility, a video of North Korean scientists inside, and a sample of some of the nuclear material. According to various sources, in July 2007 when the material was tested and confirmed to have come from North Korea, the Israelis took all of the evidence to their American allies. Condoleezza Rice’s State Department responded to the overwhelming proof of a NK-assisted nuclear weapons program in Syria by deliberately trying to downplay the value of the data.
U.S. officials told to the World Tribune that the CIA and State Department claimed that the nuclear facility “was years away from bring completed or even tested.” The officials also admitted that the State Department, particularly Secretary Rice herself, “sought to play down the Israeli evidence” and specifically “recruited CIA analysts who asserted the Syrian facility was not designed for a bomb.” This was all done because Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill believed “that any determination of a North Korean nuclear facility in Syria would torpedo U.S.-led negotiations for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.”
Despite all of the pressure against a strike emanating from Foggy Bottom, the Israelis decided to take action, and last week they were finally vindicated for doing so.
It has now been revealed that evidence collected after the bombing left no doubt as to what kind of facility Israel destroyed. The devastating and infallible quality of the evidence of a Syrian nuclear program is what led to the U.S. intelligence community’s very public reversal recently. It seems that they have now come to terms with the fact that “Pyongyang violated its February 2007 pledge to halt nuclear proliferation” and had been helping Syria's nuclear program since as early as 1997.
The Al Kibar strike isn’t the first time that the Israelis have spared the world from the consequences of a terrorist-sponsoring state with nuclear weapons. In 1981, and amid an international outcry, a squadron of Israeli fighter jets destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak. For years before the strike, the Israeli’s were engaged in an intensive diplomatic effort to convince the world of the need to take action and curb Iraq’s nuclear program. As former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has said, “In meetings with the Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and Secretary of State Alexander Haig, there was agreement about the Israeli assessment regarding the Iraqi nuclear threat. American representatives even verified Israeli assessments that Iraq was working to reach nuclear capability and would exploit the ability to influence and destroy Israel. Despite the American consensus, the Americans refused to act, perhaps because they did not truly grasp the danger, or because they did not want to upset Iraq, then fighting America’s enemy, Iran.”
Regardless of the obvious benefits of Israel’s actions in Osirak, the attack was universally criticized. Even Israel’s closest ally, the United States, approved a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel, delayed an already authorized shipment of aircraft to the Jewish State, and released the following statement: “The United States government condemns the reported Israeli air strike on the Iraqi nuclear facility, the unprecedented character of which cannot but seriously add to the already tense situation in the area."
Ironically, a decade later in 1991, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney gave a photograph of the bombed Osirak reactor to Major General David Ivry, the man who had commanded the Israeli air force during the attack, on which he wrote "with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job [you] did on the Iraqi Nuclear Program in 1981 which made our job much easier in Desert Storm." In 2003, Dr. Louis Rene Beres wrote that “had it not been for the brilliant raid at [Osirak], Saddam’s forces might have been equipped with atomic warheads in 1991. Ironically, the Saudis, too, are in Jerusalem’s debt. Had it not been for Prime Minister Begin’s resolve to protect the Israeli people in 1981, Iraq’s SCUDs falling on Saudi Arabia might have spawned immense casualties and lethal irradiation.”Last year, the same U.S. intelligence community, which has gotten it wrong so many times before, released the deeply flawed November 2007 N.I.E. which, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, claimed that the Iranian regime had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Let’s hope that the U.S.’s about-face with respect to the mullahs’ nukes comes sooner rather than later this time. If not, hopefully we can count on the Israelis to bail us out – as usual.