Ex-defense Chief Barak Rips Into Olmert for Creating 'Apocalyptic Atmosphere' Ahead of Israel's Syria Strike

Barak, who was defense minister during the strike, slams Ehud Olmert, who was PM at the time, saying: 'They acted before they thought'

Ehud Barak, Israel's former prime minister and defense minister, September 8, 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

Ehud Barak, who was defense minister when Israel bombed Syria's nuclear reactor in 2007, slammed then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his actions in the months before the operation.

In an interview on Kan Reshet Bet radio on Wednesday morning, just hours after the strike on the reactor was cleared for publication, Barak said Olmert expressed excessive urgency and haste. “In one of the security cabinet meetings with Olmert, there was a stage in which I heard apocalyptic descriptions,” Barak said. 

“I didn’t like this apocalyptic atmosphere of threats of destruction and the mention of Europe in 1938,” Barak, who also served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001, said.

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The former defense chief compared Olmert’s behavior prior to the strike to the way he acted before the Second Lebanon War. “They acted before they thought, and Olmert dragged the entire cabinet along with him.” 

Barak said he, on the other hand, was the voice of reason. “My request to wait, take a deep breath and do it at the latest possible time succeeded.” Barak also told of his efforts to cool things down and to convey that even if the reactor went “hot” (operational), Israel would still be able to deal with the situation. “I said, ‘think for a moment what would have happened if we had identified it after the reactor went hot, would you really think we would pack up our things and leave Israel?'”

According to Barak, Olmert's version of the events preceding the operation – including the former prime minister's behavior during meetings – is false. “Olmert built an absurd story based on lies about me that is appropriate for his dirty and twisted soul. Such a stupid story is also unreasonable,” said Barak. Olmert penned his take on the strike in his new memoir, the digital version of which was available even before the publication ban was lifted. In the book, Olmert accuses Barak of avoiding responsibility for the operation and trying to stall the formulation of a decision or recommendation on the attack.

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), who was foreign minister at the time of the strike, told Israel Radio that in addition to the United States, another country was a silent partner in sharing the information before the operation. Livni called the strike completely justified and more than just a successful military operation, saying it was one of the most important and strategic security decisions made by Israel in recent decades. 

“Olmert deserves the credit for this event,” Livni said. The lawmaker added that she did not want to talk about the problematic relations between Olmert and Barak. “There was an unpleasant atmosphere in some of the meetings stemming from the arguments between them, but after all the disagreements the IDF did wonderful work,” said Livni.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also commented on the publication of the operation. “Try to imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t acted," the defense chief declared. Lieberman added that the capabilities of Israel's air force and intelligence community are superior to those of Israel's military at the time of the strike. “Everyone in the Middle East should internalize this comparison,” he said.