Bush book sheds light on Israeli strike on Syria

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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