When Israel Destroyed Syria’s Nuclear Reactor: The Inside Story

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Of the many security challenges facing Israel over the past decades, none has constituted a clearer and more direct existential threat than the possible attainment of nuclear weapons by enemy states openly committed to the Jewish state’s destruction. On June 7, 1981, the Israeli airforce (IAF) destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad, inaugurating what came to be known as the Begin Doctrine. This stipulated that the Israelis would not tolerate the attainment of nuclear weapons by their implacable enemies and would do whatever possible to prevent this eventuality. Twenty-six years later, on September 6, 2007, the Begin Doctrine was put into effect again when IAF aircraft destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in a remote desert location, underscoring Jerusalem’s continued resolve to fend off all existential threats, come what may.

This article describes the sequence of events that led to the bombardment of the Syrian nuclear reactor, from its discovery by Israeli intelligence until the Israeli security cabinet’s decision to destroy the facility. Exploring the decision-making process behind this latter episode sheds intriguing light on both domestic and external political constraints confronting Israeli policymakers as they contend with the unique existential threats to the Jewish state.
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