.חשיפה: מחר (ד’) בבוקר יוסר האיסור שהטילה הצנזורה הצבאית במשך 11 שנה על דיווחים בנושא תקיפת הכור הגרעיני הסורי
Yes, it’s hard to believe but…for the past eleven years, no Israeli newspaper has been able to refer directly to the IAF’s attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor in the desert of eastern Syria, Deir ez-Zor. It was code-named Operation Orchard; or in another variant, Operation Arizona. Of course, every Israeli knows about the attack. But only based on foreign reports. No Israeli reporter may do original reporting on the bombing. They may only quote foreign news reports.
For the life of me I can’t explain why this madness persists. Of what use is an eleven-year silence on this matter? Who does it protect? Does the military censor really believe that suppression of the story protected Israeli military secrets from being exposed? Or that original Israeli reporting might further jeopardize sensitive relations with Syria?
The next question is: why now? If the matter was censored for 11 years, what changed today to make lifting censorship permissible? Usually, my first urge would be to examine the benefit Bibi Netanyahu would derive from lifting the lid on Operation Arizona. But this was an operation performed under Ehud Olmert’s prime ministership. With Olmert just released from prison and denouncing Netanyahu’s rule, I strongly doubt the current PM wants to do anything that would redound favorably on Olmert. In fact, Olmert is publishing his memoir, In the First Person, on Wednesday (the same day censorship will be lifted). As there is little love lost between the two, and Netanyahu delights in sticking a shiv into his current, past and future rivals, the lifting of censorship will bring a raft of reporting on the attack. All this will dampen interest in Olmert’s book, which is reputed to settle scores with a number of his political enemies (and erstwhile friends). That will make the conniving Netanyahu happy. This adds further proof to the claim that censorship often has no real security purpose. Rather, it is often used to settle scores and score political points.
There may also be another motive: Donald Trump is rumored to be planning on killing the Iran nuclear deal, which comes up for renewal in May. Senator Bob Corker told a TV interviewer that he expected Trump to cancel the deal.
There will be tremendous resistance to this decision from Democrats and pragmatic Republicans, who realize Trump has already been rattling sabres over the North Korean nuclear threat. They don’t want to add another nuclear confrontation into the volatile mix that is the Trump presidency.
Netanyahu anticipates this will be a hard fight and he wants to give Trump all the ammunition he can. What better way to do that than trumpeting the Israeli success in destroying the Syrian nuclear program before it could even be born. In Bibi’s eyes, this offers a perfect lead-in to transforming the U.S. position toward Iran from Obama’s diplomatic approach to the harder, more aggressive one advocated by Israel. It’s no secret that Netanyahu and Barak, when they formed a ruling duopoly, planned to attack Iran. But they failed to get the needed approval of first, George Bush, and later, Obama.
Now, there will be little or nothing stopping Trump from planning (or at least threatening) such an attack either alone or together with the IAF. Such an assault would also have the enthusiastic backing of Israel and the entire Sunni Gulf State regimes (minus perhaps, Qatar).
Such an attack, were it to happen would be a disaster for the entire region and the U.S. Our western allies would be aghast, moving even further away from us. Iran, despite the losses it will suffer, will unleash the full force of whatever capability it can muster to punish us for our reckless aggression.
Syria: What Might Have Been
In the midst of all this unbearable saber-rattling, it’s worth looking back to a historical moment when relations between Syria and Israel could have taken a far different turn. To examine a vision of a peaceful relationship that might have been, had Israel’s then-leader embraced the bold vision his negotiators offered him. Israeli former general and negotiator, Uri Sagie, did an interview published in Maariv this week (Hebrew). In it, he discussed in detail the negotiations he led with Syria which came very close to successfully concluding hostilities and resolving territorial disputes which had festered for decades. What was missing was an Israeli leader with the guts to sign a deal and sell it to the nation. Ehud Barak, prime minister at the time, was not of such a caliber. Had he been, there would have not been any nuclear reactor to bomb. And who knows whether peace with Israel might have moderated other policies and grievances which led to the devastating civil war.
Sagie adds another crucial fact which has not been previously reported regarding these negotiations: when Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, approached the Iranians to ask their blessing to enter in negotiations with Israel, Iran responded positively. Regarding today’s situation, Sagie warns that an attack on Iran would be disastrous and that it would be far more productive to enter into talks with the Iranians in order to prove that Israel doesn’t wish to be the first to “pull the trigger.”