by Ari Lieberman
Israel’s recent disclosure that its air force reduced Syria’s Al Kibar atomic bomb facility to rubble came across as one of the worst kept secrets in modern history. International media outlets had already published detailed accounts of the successful strike and even former president George W. Bush made reference to the raid in his memoirs.
The reasons for the formal acknowledgement now, 11 years after the fact are threefold. First, as already noted, everyone and their uncle knew Israel was responsible so there was no point in maintaining continued silence on the issue.
Second, Israel had always feared that a formal acknowledgement would force Assad into a corner and compel him to avenge Arab honor. Silence on the issue allowed him to maintain a docile posture vis-à-vis Israel. Indeed, most Syrians at the time believed official Syrian media reports that Israel dropped a few bombs in the open desert. However, Syria of 2007 is no more. After years of protracted conflict, Assad’s army is a mere shell of its former self and he relies on Russia and Iranian proxy militias, like Hezbollah, for survival. In sum, he no longer poses a credible conventional threat to Israel and is in no position to retaliate against a country that could tackle the entire combined armed Arab might of the Middle East.
The third reason may have more to do with projection of deterrence than appeasing a few Israel media outlets clamoring for a reversal of censorship regulations. Israel wants Iran to know that when it comes to its security, the Jewish State will take no prisoners. Threats deemed to be existential will be dealt with harshly, regardless of cost.
Whether the mullahs got the message remains to be seen but clearly, as evidenced by past Israeli actions exclusive of Al Kibar, this is no bluff. Thus far, at least five Iranian scientists affiliated with Iran’s rogue nuclear activities have met unnatural deaths and the malware Stuxnet, a digital weapon unlike any seen to date, wreaked havoc on Iranian centrifuges, destroying as many as 1,000 before detection.
Chemical weapons, said to be the poor man’s nuclear bomb, are also of primary concern. Israel has thus far carried out over a 100 precision strikes in Syria and chemical weapons facilities have been among the sites targeted. Israel fears that such weapons may fall into the hands of Hezbollah or other Islamist terrorist groups and its vaunted intelligence services are extremely cognizant of this threat and continue to remain vigilant. But before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, bombing Syria on a regular basis wasn’t really a viable option so the Israelis resorted to other methods to thwart proliferation.
On March 4, Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a British police officer were poisoned in the UK by a potent nerve agent called “Novichok.” Exposure to minute amounts of this toxin is lethal. The man largely responsible for this deadly nerve agent was Anatoly Kuntsevich, a former Soviet general and chemical weapons expert. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kuntsevich, who lacked any moral conscience, saw a chance to enrich himself by peddling his chemical weapons expertise to genocidal customers in Damascus.
Israeli intelligence picked up on Kuntsevich’s nefarious goings-on and began tracking his movements. Before resorting to deadly force, Israel implored the Russian government to rein in the rogue chemical weapons expert but the pleadings fell on deaf ears. The Russians were either unable or unwilling to curb Kuntsevich’s activities. And so on April 29, 2002 Kuntsevich, a relatively young man, boarded a flight from Aleppo, Syria to Moscow but he never made it alive to his destination. He died midflight under mysterious circumstances thus prematurely ending his lucrative business venture and giving Israel some breathing space.
Israel, of course, never claimed responsibility for Kuntsevich’s death but it is reasonable to assume that the Mossad was responsible. In every decade, Israel faces some form of existential threat from its morally bankrupt, genocidal neighbors.
In the early 1960’s, Egypt recruited ex-Nazi German scientists to build long-range surface-to-surface missiles capable of reaching Israel. Once Israel caught wind of the scheme, the Germans became legitimate targets. The head of the project, Heinz Krug, was kidnapped in Munich by Israeli agents, brought to Israel, interrogated and liquidated. Other German scientists received letter bombs or were threatened. The Germans quickly understood that Israel meant business and the project ceased after all the Germans quit.
In 1981, Israel blew up Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak. With French assistance, Hussein was attempting to construct a plutonium reactor capable of producing nuclear bombs. Mossad attempts to thwart the Iraqi scheme had only delayed Hussein’s ambitions but failed to stop it. But as with Assad’s Al Kibar, it was the Israeli Air Force that finally put the nail in the coffin for Hussein’s monstrous desires.
In 1990, another enemy emerged and his name was Gerald Bull. A 62-year-old artillery genius, Bull was in the process of designing and constructing a super cannon for Iraq with a muzzle of a staggering 1,000mm, which was capable of hurling large projectiles loaded with WMDs at Israel. The Israelis warned Bull that his continued efforts on behalf Saddam Hussein placed him in grave danger. Bull ignored the warning. On March 22, 1990 he was shot and liquidated just outside his Brussels apartment.
When it comes to its security, Israeli threats are not idle; they are deadly serious and Israel’s enemies but chiefly Iran and Hezbollah, should take heed.