'The Mossad chief showed us photos of the reactor'

Former Defense Minister Peretz speaks to Arutz Sheva about the behind-the-scenes discussions on when to destroy the Syrian reactor.

Nitsan Keidar ,

Squadron 69, which carried out the attack
Squadron 69, which carried out the attack
IDF spokesperson

Former Defense Minister MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) spoke on Wednesday to Arutz Sheva about the preparations for Israel's 2007 attack on Syria's nuclear reactor.

Three months before the operation, Peretz lost the Labor party primaries and gave his seat to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was then appointed Defense Minister.

"The defense echelons were shown the information about the Syrian reactor, and you must understand that it was an issue," Peretz told Arutz Sheva. "Meir Dagan, the Mossad chief at the time, presented the photos to us, and they showed that North Korean workers were working on the reactor."

"We had two challenges, intelligence-wise. The first was to ensure that it was a nuclear reactor, because it was being built under a farm, and there was no special military activity in the area.... The second was to identify the point of no return, after which we would have to destroy it. Because the moment a reactor becomes active, we're in trouble. Blowing it up could lead to the 'Chernobyl effect' - with radioactive fallout polluting the area, especially the Euphrates River, which was near the site. We also tracked the site's connection with the water infrastructure.

"We had a few military options on the table, and they all used the Air Force. Our concern was whether we'd be able to ensure that the air strikes caused enough damage."

Peretz added that Israel thought long and hard over how to inform the US government of the strike in a way which would not prevent future strikes.

"We made a huge diplomatic effort," he said. "It was obvious that we would let the Americans in on the issue, the question was only when. We had a situation in which the US Secretary of Defense [Robert] Gates arrived in Israel at my invitation. That visit began on April 18, and it was obvious to Prime Minister Olmert and myself that there was no way he was going to leave without information on the Syrian reactor."

"The Prime Minister made sure that the US President knew a few hours before Gates, and sent Yoram Torbovitz and Mossad Chief Dagan to tell the relevant US parties. And then, so that the timing would be right, I met with Gates on April 19, together with Military Intelligence Directorate Head Amos Yadlin and Military Secetary Dangot, and we showed him the information. He was surprised, but he handled it in a very businesslike manner and very professionally. We asked him to keep it a secret, and he did.

By the time the Barak won the Labor party primaries, intelligence showed that the Syrian reactor was connected to water. Air Force Commander Shakedi pushed the government to make a decision.

"Intelligence showed that Syria was liable to respond to a strike in one of two ways: A general war, with Syrian forces reinforced by Hezbollah, or to completely ignore the strike, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad preferred not to explain to the international community that he had built a reactor after signing an international agreement on the issue," Peretz explained.

A few days after Peretz estimated that Israel needed to strike the Syrian reactor, Olmert asked him to step down, and replaced him with Barak. Peretz, meanwhile briefed Barak on the Syrian reactor, as well as on the preparations for attacking it.

At the end of the day, worries about whether foreign media would publicize the reactor's existence led Israel to demolish it.

"On the day of the strike, at seven in the morning, Ehud Barak called and told me, 'Amir Peretz, I want to report to you that the operation has been carried out successfully. All our forces have returned safely to their bases. Your fingerprints are obvious everywhere.'"