The BBC News website’s Middle East page of April 7th led with the not unexpected news that “Talks between world powers and Iran on its nuclear programme end without agreement”. One of the related articles presented together with that report is a purely speculative item entitled “Iran crisis: Would Israel launch an attack?” by Raffi Berg, which first appeared on March 20th among coverage of the Obama visit to Israel.
In a sidebox headed “Iraq and Syria attacks: The precedents?” we find the following statement:
“Israel did not inform the US in advance of its strike on Osirak, nor of its alleged bombing of the Syrian plant.”
The suggestion that the United States government was not aware of Israeli intentions regarding the Syrian nuclear reactor is of course at odds with the extensive account provided earlier this year in Commentary Magazine by former US National Security Council member Elliot Abrahams. According to that account, the US knew very well what was on the cards and hence the BBC’s statement is misleading and inaccurate.
“Three days earlier, on July 13, President Bush had called Prime Minister Olmert from his desk in the Oval Office and explained his view. I have gone over this in great detail, Bush explained on the secure phone to the Israeli prime minister, looking at every possible scenario and its likely aftermath. We have looked at overt and covert options, and I have made a decision. We are not going to take the military path; we are instead going to the UN. Bush recounts in his memoir that he told Olmert, “I cannot justify an attack on a sovereign nation unless my intelligence agencies stand up and say it’s a weapons program” and that “I had decided on the diplomatic option backed by the threat of force.” We will announce this approach soon, Bush said on the secure line, and we will then launch a major diplomatic campaign, starting at the IAEA and then the UN Security Council. And of course a military option always remains available down the line.
I wondered how Olmert would react and believed I could predict his response: He would say, “Wait, give me some time to think about this, to consult my team, to reflect, and I will call you tomorrow.” I was quite wrong. He reacted immediately and forcefully. George, he said, this leaves me surprised and disappointed. And I cannot accept it. We told you from the first day, when Dagan came to Washington, and I’ve told you since then whenever we discussed it, that the reactor had to go away. Israel cannot live with a Syrian nuclear reactor; we will not accept it. It would change the entire region and our national security cannot accept it. You are telling me you will not act; so, we will act. The timing is another matter, and we will not do anything precipitous. […]
After that conversation, there was a nearly two-month gap, from July 13 to September 6. We now know the time was filled with Israeli military calculations—watching the weather and Syrian movements on the ground—with the aim of being sure that Israel could act before the reactor went “critical” or “hot.” We knew the Israelis would strike sooner or later. They acted, in the end, when a leak about the reactor’s existence was imminent and Syria might then have gotten notice that Israel knew of its existence. That would have given Assad time to put civilians or nuclear fuel near the site. The Israelis did not seek, nor did they get, a green or red light from us. Nor did they announce their timing in advance; they told us as they were blowing up the site. Olmert called the president on September 6 with the news.”
Read the rest of the account here.