Bush book sheds light on Israeli strike on Syria
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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 16:39
  
Jerusalem: Former President George W Bush confirms in his memoir that the target of a 2007 Israeli airstrike was a Syrian nuclear reactor and suggests he quietly approved a revelation with special relevance at a time when Israel is calling for a "military option" against Iran's nuclear programme.

Offering insight into how high-stakes diplomacy can play out very differently in private, Bush says the raid showed the Jewish state would go it alone and "made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis" because of the indecisive war in Lebanon a year before.

In public, by contrast, the United States certainly did not offer praise.

He also revealed that Israel first asked the US to bomb the site, but the Bush administration refused. The section on Syria is just a small part of a memoir that is generating buzz around the world with its surprising candor.

The former president, who has largely kept a low profile since leaving office nearly two years ago, describes tensions with Vice President Dick Cheney and acknowledges mistakes in his handling of key events from the war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina to the downturn in the American economy.

Bush's defense of harsh tactics used against terrorist suspects, such as waterboarding, has created an uproar in some corners of the globe, especially in Europe.

Israel, one of the few places where Bush remained popular until his last day in office, has been far kinder. Israeli media have focused on Bush's warm praise for ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his support for Israel's tough crackdown on Palestinian militants in the last decade and his animosity toward the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

The September 6, 2007, airstrike in Syria remains one of Israel's deepest secrets of recent times. Syria announced at the time that its airspace had been invaded but gave no details. Israel has never commented on the operation. But in "Decision Points," published this week, Bush provides the strongest confirmation yet of reports that citing experts and unidentified US intelligence officials that Israel hit a nuclear reactor being built with North Korean assistance.

Bush writes that in spring 2007 US officials strongly suspected that Syria, a bitter enemy of Israel, had been caught "red-handed trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability with North Korean help." This was based on photos obtained by a foreign intelligence partner of a suspicious building in eastern Syria.

Olmert asked the president "to bomb the compound," Bush writes. The US refused, saying it had only "low confidence" Syria was developing nuclear weapons. Bush wrote that Olmert was disappointed.

The Israeli strike occurred about a year after Israel's inconclusive war against Hezbollah, in which Lebanese guerrillas battled Israel's powerful army to a stalemate. The poor performance raised questions about Israel's deterrent capabilities.

"Prime Minister Olmert's execution of the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the Lebanon war," Bush wrote, adding that the Israeli leader rejected a suggestion to go public with the operation.

"Olmert told me he wanted total secrecy. He wanted to avoid anything that might back Syria into a corner and force (Syrian President Bashar) Assad to retaliate. This was his operation, and I felt an obligation to respect his wishes," Bush wrote.

PTI


First Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 16:39


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