Israel lifts veil of secrecy over air strike in Syria

Censor says Israeli media no longer required to attribute raid to foreign press.

October 2, 2007 13:53
2 minute read.
Israel lifts veil of secrecy over air strike in Syria

F-16I 224.88. (photo credit: IDF)

Israel decided Tuesday to lift the strict veil of secrecy over an air strike in Syria last month. The censor announced that it was allowing the Israeli media to report on the raid without attributing such reports to foreign sources. The censor did not release any other details of the raid for publication. Israel has kept quiet on the subject until now. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad told the BBC on Monday that IAF jets had hit an "unused military building" in his country. Assad said Israel's air raid on northern Syria showed Israel's "visceral antipathy towards peace," according to excerpts posted on the BBC's Web site. The comments were the first by the Syrian leader about the incursion, which raised speculation that warplanes had hit weapons headed for Hizbullah or even a nascent nuclear installation - reports Damascus has repeatedly denied. Journalists in Israel are required to submit articles related to security and military issues to the censor, which can make changes to stories or bar publication altogether. In a rare move, the censor's office issued a special directive about the Syrian air raid, specifically prohibiting publication of any details. Violation of the censorship orders can result in the loss of press credentials or other sanctions. Social Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog said that the announcement did not mean any "political change" was made regarding the Syrian strike but that it was merely a "technical move" of the censor. "In essence, it doesn't mean there has been a change in circumstances, it is technical change," Herzog told Channel One on Tuesday night. Although Israel did not come out with an official statement following the incident, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu broke the silence two weeks afterwards when he said he had congratulated Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the strike. In an interview with Channel 1, Netanyahu said that he was "part of the matter from the beginning" and that he knew to separate matters of national security from politics. The overflight was first reported on Syrian television just after the attack, and various reports regarding the strike's target have circulated in the press over the past month. The Washington Post reported that the target had been a facility involved in a joint Syrian-North Korean nuclear project - a claim backed by former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Britain's Sunday Times, meanwhile, reported just over a week ago that soldiers from the IDF's elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) had seized North Korean nuclear material from a secret Syrian military installation before it was bombed by IAF jets. The paper claimed that the IAF attack on September 6 was sanctioned by the US after the Americans were given proof that the material was indeed nuclear-related. It also stated that Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who used to head the unit, personally oversaw the operation. However, Syrian officials have repeatedly called news of the strike lies and fabrications, and on Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the US of inventing these reports. "Some sources in the United States have spread rumors and fabricated news in order to justify this act of aggression," Moallem charged. "By distorting the facts they have become Israel's accomplices in this act of aggression." Speaking to the UN, Moallem said the act was proof that the Jewish state wanted to escalate tensions. Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report.

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