A detailed account of a little-known episode in Middle Eastern history.
Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Katz (co-author: The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower, 2017, etc.) takes advantage of high-level contacts in the Israeli military and government to give the inside story of a bombing mission that preserved the balance between two rival powers. The story begins in 2007, with a visit by Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad, to the George W. Bush White House. Dagan met with the director of the National Security Agency and Vice President Dick Cheney, showing them photos of a site in Syria that Israeli intelligence believed to be a nuclear reactor under construction. With some help from American intelligence, that interpretation was confirmed. However, Bush decided not to take direct action, which left it to Israel to determine how to respond to the threat. The decision was complicated by Israel’s setbacks in its 2006 conflict with Hezbollah along the Syrian border, which left that nation in an apparently weak defensive posture. Furthermore, the clear evidence of a North Korean role in Syria’s reactor project raised the critical issue of nuclear proliferation. Katz takes readers inside the discussions at the White House, the Israeli National Security Council, and the Israeli Defense Forces, and he profiles key figures in the mission and in the political discussions preceding it, many of whom are probably unfamiliar to many American readers. We get close-up looks at former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and Amos Yadlin, head of Israeli military intelligence. The author also explores the early career of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as part of the analysis of Syria’s response to the attack. On the whole, Katz makes a solid case that the attack, which largely escaped wide public attention at the time, had profound implications for nuclear nonproliferation policy, the ongoing Syrian civil war, and the U.S.–Israel relationship.
A valuable document for understanding Israel’s defense policy and its broader effects on the Middle East as a whole.