Israeli Spy Agencies Play Blame Game Over Attack on Syria Nuclear Reactor

Mossad says it discovered Syria's North Korean-aided nuclear program – reportedly in a daring raid in Vienna - but the Military Intelligence claims it discovered it first

Former head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin (right) and former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo.
עופר וקנין ודודו בכר

The former heads of the Mossad and Military Intelligence at the time of Israel's attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor a decade ago are now warring over which intelligence organization deserves the most credit for uncovering the Syrian nuclear program.

Tamir Pardo, who was the head of the Mossad in 2007, said on Wednesday that only because of the Mossad did Israel know about the reactor. He also said its late discovery was a “thunderous failure.”

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At the same time, the former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, rejected the criticism of an intelligence failure, saying MI pointed out the possibility of a Syrian nuclear program in late 2006.

Yadlin responded to the claim and Barak's statement that then-Prime Minister Olmert created an "apocalyptic atmosphere," saying that "the defense minister is wrong the atmosphere was professional and on point - from the initial discovery in 2006, to the attack in the fall."

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Meanwhile, former Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning that the reactor was discovered by chance, with a few months left before it went into operation.

'Pieces of the puzzle'

At the Meir Dagan Conference on Security and Strategy at the Netanya Academic College on Wednesday, Pardo said a team of Mossad officers managed to bring in the intelligence on the reactor. “Because of this information – and only this information – did Israel have the knowledge that there was even a nuclear reactor in Syria,” said Pardo.

According to the New Yorker magazine, Mossad officers broke into the home of the head of the Syrian atomic energy commission in Vienna and copied data from his computer. This information contained pictures of the inside of the reactor that proved its existence.

Earlier, before Pardo spoke, Yadlin told Army Radio that Military Intelligence raided of the possibility of a Syrian nuclear program in late 2006 and early 2007. “We couldn’t know it with certainty. Out of the puzzle we had 50 pieces out of a thousand.” Yadlin also mentioned the operation in Vienna that “happily, in an exceptional operation by our colleagues in the Mossad, according to foreign sources, 500 puzzle pieces arrived and the picture was clarified, not at all by luck but through outstanding intelligence work,” said Yadlin. 

A former senior intelligence official told Haaretz that the late discovery of the nuclear reactor was in his view the biggest intelligence failure in Israel’s history. Maybe even bigger than the Yom Kippur War. “The scary part of the entire story is that the discovery was completely by accident.”

Brig. Gen. (res.) Eli Ben-Meir, who was the head of the technical section of Military Intelligence at the time, said: “Maybe we could have located it three months earlier based on the information we had.”