"Secret" Syria strike helps Israel signal resolve on Iran

Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:45am GMT

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli cabinet minister on Tuesday invoked his country's ostensibly secret 2007 air raid on an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor to suggest Israel could successfully strike Iran without U.S. support.

Israel has never formally acknowledged the bombing of the desert site at Deir al-Zor nor said what was destroyed - a precaution against drawing Syria into a retaliatory war, according to then-U.S. President George W. Bush, who in his memoir described the target as a nascent, North Korean-supplied reactor.

That Bush, by his own account, declined to carry out a U.S. strike as initially requested by Israel resurfaced this week in an expose by the New Yorker magazine. It touched a topical nerve given current tensions between the allies over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hints he could defy Washington by taking similar action against Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

"According to what was reported, then, too, President Bush was not enthused by an attack, did not agree to the United States taking part, and in any event the right step was taken," Environment Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio.

Erdan, a influential member of the ruling, rightist Likud party, was answering a question about whether Israel could afford to deepen its rift with the United States, which has resisted Netanyahu's demand for a "clear red line" beyond which it would be willing to resort to force on Iran.

The Netanyahu government has made clear Israel is prepared to attack unilaterally if necessary, despite divided domestic opinion and Western calls to give diplomacy with Tehran more time. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, as did Syria in 2007.

As noted by the New Yorker, differences abound between the single, exposed structure hit by Israel in neighbouring Syria and the numerous, distant and defended Iranian facilities.

LIMITS OF SECRECY   Continued...

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