J'lem Outraged by Netanyahu's Admission of IAF Strike on Syria

Opposition head is first Israeli official to validate reports of attack, says PM briefed him beforehand.

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The political and defense establishments reacted with fury on Thursday to opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu's apparent confirmation of an Israeli operation in Syria two weeks ago.

In what appears to be the first confirmation by a senior politician of foreign media reports, MK Benjamin Netanyahu told Channel One television that he was party to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to attack Syria, an operation on which Israeli officials have remained uncharacteristically silent.

Labor Party secretary-general, Eitan Cabel, said to Army Radio that Netanyahu's words were "an outburst that is severe, stupid and irresponsible."

"Bibi [Netanyahu] is the same Bibi. I haven no idea if it is foolishness, stupidity, the desire to jump on the bandwagon, the desire to be a partner, to steal credit - or something else. It is simply very dangerous. The man simply does not deserve to lead," Cabel told Army Radio.

In an interview with Channel One news anchor Haim Yavin, Netanyahu shocked the Prime Minister's Office when he said that he was briefed on Olmert's decision to carry out an operation in Syria, gave him his backing and congratulated him.

"When the prime minister takes action in important and necessary matters, and generally when the government is doing things for the security of Israel, I give it my endorsement," he said. "I was party to this matter, I must say, from the first minute and I gave it my backing, but it is still too early to discuss this subject."

Yavin then asked Netanyahu, "did you congratulate him [Olmert] on the operation?"

Netanyahu responded, "Personally, yes."

In response to the interview, sources close to Olmert said that "Bibi's slip of the tongue borders national irresponsibility."

An official said Tuesday that "once again Netanyahu couldn't restrain himself and he ran to tell the guys."

Members of the defense establishment also censured Netanyahu, calling his statement "the highest level of irresponsibility."

Politicians from the right, on the other hand, expressed support for Netanyahu and were critical of Olmert.

MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that "Netanyahu's statements were unfortunate ones, but they caused no harm. This is a tempest in a teacup."

MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) said that "it is a pity that the aides of the worst prime minister in the history of the state seek out every opportunity to incite against Netanyahu, and permit themselves to use language that is lowly and contemptible, albeit typical."

"It was actually Olmert who, with his endless chatter, exposed the existence of Israel's nuclear arms. He should stay mum and not create a virtual storm from the support he is receiving from the head of the opposition as part of his responsible and stately conduct," Erdan continued.

MK Effi Eitam (National Religious Party) also came to Netanyahu's defense. "Although I am not a member of Netanyahu's party, I condemn the wrongful way in which the Prime Minister's Office is attacking Netanyahu in a personal and ugly manner in the name of national defense. His comment did not harm Israel's security, and Olmert's aides would do well to examine (Olmert's) judgment and statements during the Second Lebanon War.

The government has remained completely silent on the affair up until now, which has resulted in a slew of speculations by foreign publications.

According to a report in this week's London-based Sunday Times, for example, an Israeli source said the supposed Israel Air Force strike came in the wake of intelligence reports suggesting Syria was been planning a "devastating surprise" for Israel. The report also claimed that Israeli ground forces were involved in the attack on a Syrian installation, which foreign sources described as a nuclear facility.



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