In Brief

Israel warns Iran over nuclear ambitions

In a veiled threat, Israel confirms it destroyed Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

Israel has admitted it destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor being built in Syria in 2007, in a clear warning to Iran over its own nuclear ambitions.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said a “vast intelligence effort” against Syria had begun in late 2004, when Israeli agents obtained information that foreign experts - believed to be North Korean - were helping Assad with a nuclear project.

After confirming the location of the site, the IDF then made plans to strike before the reactor tuned operational at the end of 2007.

Under the terms of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which it signed in 1970, Syria had the right to build a reactor to generate electricity but was obliged to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of any plans to construct a nuclear facility.

A 2011 IAEA survey conducted before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war concluded that the site was “very likely” to have been a nuclear reactor, although President Assad has long denied this was the case or that he cooperated with North Korea.

Israel also has never officially accepted responsibility for the attack – until now.

The country’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said the decision to publicly acknowledge the strike was intended to send a message to the country’s enemies, adding:

“The motivation of our enemies has increased in recent years, but the strength of our army, our air force and our intelligence capabilities have increased compared with the capabilities we had in 2007. This equation should be taken into account by everyone in the Middle East.”

It is not the first time Israel has carried out this type of operation. In 1981, it crippled Iraq’s nuclear program with the bombing of the Osiraq facility, a strike “later credited with preventing Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction that could have been used in the Gulf War a decade later”, says Time.

That strike established Israel's policy, CNN says, known as the Begin Doctrine after then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, “that Israel would carry out pre-emptive strikes against the development of weapons of mass destruction it considered a threat”.

The latest message from Jerusalem is clear, says the BBC’s Tom Bateman: “Israel would be prepared to put Iranian nuclear facilities in the planes’ crosshairs in the future.”

Israel believes a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat and has claimed Iranian forces involved in the Syrian war are looking to establish a permanent presence along its northern border.

Through its latest demonstration of force, Israel “may hope to add a sharper military edge to American diplomatic pressure on Europe to toughen its stance on the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – an agreement detested by Israel”, says Bateman.

Last month, Israel and Iran clashed militarily in Syria for the first time, and the BBC correspondent says yesterday’s admission is a move “that once again raises the stakes in the volatile atmosphere among regional powers engaged in Syria’s seven-year long war”.

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