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The IDF’s laughable attempt to rewrite history on Syria

Despite what it would have you believe, the Israeli military’s intelligence analysts put the Syrian nuclear issue on the back burner until the nuclear reactor was discovered almost by happenstance.

A view of the of the Syrian nuclear reactor before and after it was hit by Israel. Credit: IDF Spokesman Unit screenshot.
A view of the of the Syrian nuclear reactor before and after it was hit by Israel. Credit: IDF Spokesman Unit screenshot.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

Precisely 15 years after Israel destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor, the Israeli military on Tuesday released more footage, images and documents dealing with the strike and the intelligence that made it possible.

The cherry on top was the internal, now-declassified intelligence memo from 2002 in which the IDF Intelligence Directorate warns that “Syria is engaged in secret projects that we were previously not aware of.” The document also says that the “intelligence does not point to a nuclear program that is currently underway in Syria but it indicates activity in areas that could contribute to the development of such a program and raises the suspicion that it is already in its initial phase.”

The army apparently hoped that releasing this document would prove that its analysts had successfully predicted Syria’s march to the bomb. But one must wonder: Why did Israel’s intelligence fail so miserably at detecting the efforts to build the reactor that it was only discovered by happenstance in February 2006? And even then, not because of the IDF intelligence analysts (who are excellent) but because of a Mossad operation.

The truth of the matter is that IDF intelligence officials at that time put the Syrian nuclear issue on the back burner. Likewise, the Mossad barely allocated any resources or attention to this matter, and its chief at the time, Meir Dagan, reportedly assessed that there was a very low probability that Syria had a nuclear program (Dagan later denied this claim and said this report was nonsense). Only the fact that some determined Mossad intelligence officers did not let go of this issue and challenged Dagan’s position made him authorize the operations, most of which ended without much to show.

Even the operation that ultimately produced the critical intelligence was a success almost by accident. Future Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, then an IDF officer at the Operations Directorate who was called to help with the matter, didn’t think the operation would lead to valuable intelligence. When things went sideways and the assets on the ground had to improvise, they then—according to foreign media—managed to hack a computer belonging to a senior official at the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria, extracting information showing images of a secret nuclear program that had reached an advanced stage. Had this information not been found, the reactor would have become operational several months later.

The Mossad’s role was not even mentioned in the IDF publication on Tuesday, which gave the IDF all the glory. The IDF should be credited for the action it took once the information had been received, especially the taking out of the reactor. But its attempt to rewrite history, as if its analysts were the ones to identify the threat and sound the alarm, is surprising at best and laughable at worst.

The IDF would be well advised to avoid such meaningless press releases and instead summon all of its young officers to a special professional training day in which it does what any intelligence agency must: Create a “Red Team” that would scrutinize its own actions and spot the failures in the process so that the proper lessons can be drawn and no future intelligence lapse of this magnitude occurs.

Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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