Israel's military has gone public for the first time to confirm a 2007 airstrike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, announcing details of a night-time attack its intelligence minister said provides a clear warning to Iran.
Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz directly warned Tehran that Israel would not allow it to develop and possess nuclear weapons.
"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", the military chief, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizencot, said in the statement issued on Wednesday.
Newly released reports show that Israel sent four F-16 fighters into Syria on September 6, 2007, to to bomb the partially completed al-Kubar nuclear reactor in Deir al-Zor after monitoring the site for years.
By not acknowledging involvement, Israel let Assad maintain "deniability" so he would be less likely to attack in response, said Amos Yadlin, the head of military intelligence at the time of the strike. "The policy of Israel was and remains consistent: to prevent our enemies from acquiring nuclear weapons".
Eight fighter jets flew at low altitude on the secret mission against the suspected plutonium nuclear reactor in the Deir el-Zour region of eastern Syria, the military said.
Israeli media are also discussing the possibility that today's disclosure is related to the upcoming publication of memoirs by both former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his bitter rival and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Syria, a signatory of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has always denied that the site was a reactor or that Damascus engaged in nuclear cooperation with North Korea.
"The facility that was ... destroyed by Israel was a nuclear reactor under construction", Amano commented.
Syria has never acknowledged building a nuclear reactor at the site, instead insisting months later that it was a missile facility.
The Deir ez-Zor area of Syria was in the hands of the Islamic State for two years beginning in May 2015.
Despite being widely reported in global media and even directly referred to in a memoir by former US President George W Bush, Israel maintained a veil of secrecy around the strike to prevent an escalation with Syria, said Amos Yadlin, who served as Israel's chief of military intelligence during the strike.
The strike came about a year after Israel's inconclusive war against Hezbollah, in which the Lebanese group battled Israel'sarmy to a stalemate.
The reactor, which was being built with North Korean help and funding from Iran, was months away from activation, claimed the authorities.
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