The March 21 decision by Israel’s military to publicly acknowledge its destruction of a plutonium reactor in Syria in 2007 should have sparked a celebration of national pride. Instead, it set off turmoil, which included competing versions of events and accusations surrounding Operation Out of the Box (the code name for the bombing of the reactor). Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said that it was “a resounding intelligence fiasco,” and that if it wasn’t for a small group of Mossad agents who brought the “golden intel” (the Israel Defense Forces’ term for significant/decisive information), no one would have known about the reactor. The former head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Yadlin, contradicted this, saying military intelligence had found signs of a nuclear reactor in Syria as early as 2006. He said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strategy to pursue an ambitious, secretive nuclear project came as a surprise, but that the people responsible for uncovering this strategic surprise, those who prevented a strategic disaster and spearheaded an impressive strategic success, were members of the Israeli intelligence community.
As far as is known, Yadlin is the only person who played a major role in the destruction of not one but two military-grade nuclear reactors. Back in 1981, he was one of two Israeli F-16 pilots who destroyed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, as ordered by then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In 2007, he was head of the Intelligence Division when Israel was stunned to discover that Assad had constructed a plutonium reactor in the middle of the Syrian desert and that it was about to be hooked up to the Euphrates River and become operational. Criticism of Israeli intelligence focuses on the idea that it took Israel far too long to locate the reactor. Military intelligence first identified Syria’s nuclear activity only in late 2005.