Today, the Israeli censor lifted the lid on the Israeli air attack on a purported nuclear reactor in eastern Syria in 2007. As expected, the news media are full of multi-part profiles of the heroes who planned and executed the attack. It’s a day of celebration of the daring and courage of the Israeli air force and those in the political élite who approved it. Among those who come in for special praise are Ehud Olmert, then prime minister; and to a lesser extent, Ehud Barak, then-defense minister.
The amount of mutual back-slapping in the media reminds me of those pictures of Barack Obama and his military team as they watched the assassination of Osama bin Laden. There were massive celebrations both in the White House and in the streets of America. Few Americans were asking why we assassinated a foreign enemy. Why we resorted to something which was little short of an act of state terrorism. Even today, those questions are never posed to Obama or his advisors. This is the same environment in which the Syrian attack is being addressed in Israel.
For example, most news outlets acknowledge that the military censor has prevented direct reporting for the past 11 years. But no journalists have explained why the censor suppressed this story so long. Nor have many explained what caused the lid to be lifted precisely at this time. In fact, Yossi Melman does mention that the news media appealed the censorship decision to the Supreme Court. The Court, in a rare act of resistance to the national security apparatus “advised” the censor to reconsider its decision. It did so and, faced with the possibility the Court would direct it to lift censorship, wisely chose discretion as the better part of valor.
I find it odd that no Israeli journalists have breathed a word concerning the widespread skepticism among certain expert circles regarding the Israeli narrative. Gareth Porter, in particular, wrote a two-part series (first part, second part) last year which plumbed this very thoroughly. Though I am not expert enough to judge whether the Israeli version of events is more or less credible than Porter’s assessment, I can say one thing: it is perfectly in character for Israeli journalists to accept the narrative offered them by the military-intelligence complex without offering an ounce of skepticism. There is no ingrained value in Israeli society that says the powers-that-be and the claims they make should be taken with a grain of salt. Especially when those claims are related to national security issues.
Israeli reports note that some aspects of the Syria operation remain under censorship. An Israeli source tells me that this concerns a covert operation to hack into the electronic device of a Syrian nuclear expert in order to obtain photographic evidence proving the reactor’s existence. The incident regards the Syrian atomic energy chief who traveled to Austria to attend a nuclear conference. While participating in the conference proceedings, he supposedly left a laptop or some other electronic device unattended in his hotel room. Mossad operatives entered his room and downloaded the material on his device. After it was analyzed, Mossad determined it was a series of photographs of a nuclear reactor. As a result of subsequent research, agency analysts determined the photographs were of the al-Kidan nuclear reactor.
In today’s news reports, the photographs are published for the first time. But no one has asked whether these photographs are indeed of this reactor. No one has asked how the Mossad determined where the photographs were originally taken. The assumption everyone makes is that they were taken in the eastern Syria desert. But how did they determine this?
I also question the circumstances under which the Mossad secured the photographs. If you were the atomic energy chief of a country pursuing a top-secret race to build a nuclear reactor and arm yourself with nuclear weapons, would you carry a device abroad featuring evidence of the project? And then would you leave your precious cargo unattended in your hotel room for someone to hack it? Either the man was very, very stupid; or things happened differently than what’s being recounted. I don’t know what happened in that hotel room. But there is something about this story that doesn’t add up.
Finally, there is a breathtaking, characteristic Israeli hubris in the manner in which they portray Syria’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is a project devised by a brutal tyrant seeking to annihilate (or at the very least dominate) his Israeli enemy. This brutal tyrant is someone who would share such terrible weapons with his terrorist pals in a heartbeat. Here’s an example from Yossi Melman:
…The decision by Olmert to blow up the complex…prevented Assad from attaining nuclear weapons. Potentially, it also prevented the world’s most bloodthirsty terrorists from acquiring the world’s most lethal weapons.
There is no recognition that much of the Arab world considers Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile to be at least as dangerous to it, as Israel finds the prospect of a Muslim or Arab nation getting nukes. For the Israeli, “the Arabs” are the unstable, untrustworthy, unsavory characters seeking Israel’s destruction. The fact that Israel has hundreds of times more lethal power in its nuclear arsenal to destroy the Arab world many times over–that doesn’t register as anything that would overly concern other states in the region. This represents the blinkered mentality of the Israeli nation towards its neighbors. It is the sort of mental-psychological denial which may some day result in the decline and fall of the state.