Israeli official muzzled on Syria attack

Updated: 2007-09-17 14:18

Jerusalem - Israel's chief of military intelligence was ordered Sunday not to discuss an alleged air raid on Syria before a powerful parliamentary panel, tightening the veil of secrecy the government has thrown around the issue.

Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, told reporters he instructed military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin to avoid any mention of Syria at a committee meeting Sunday. Panel members regularly report to journalists during and after committee meetings.

In a statement some participants saw as an oblique reference to the alleged Syria raid, Yadlin told the meeting, "Israel's deterrence has been rehabilitated since the Lebanon war, and it affects the entire regional system, including Iran and Syria," according to a lawmaker who was present.

The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the meeting's contents to the media.

Foreign news reports have suggested that Israel struck a Syrian site designed to make non-conventional weapons, possibly a nuclear installation.

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, told Israeli Channel 10 TV he thought Israel might have been attacking a nuclear installation, "a message not only to Syria, but to Iran."

"I think it would be unusual for Israel to conduct a military operation inside Syria other than for a very high value target, and certainly a Syrian effort in the nuclear weapons area would qualify," Bolton said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Bolton, who has long called for a hard line against the Syria and Iran, did not indicate he had firsthand information about the incident.

Among the other possible explanations are that Israel was on an intelligence-gathering mission, testing Syria's air defenses, scouting an air corridor for a future strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, or hitting a shipment of arms destined for Hezbollah.

In the past, Israel often has been swift to announce such operations. This time, Syria announced the incident, saying its air space had been entered and that Israel had "dropped munitions." Syria has offered no evidence of any Israeli attack.

Syria and Israel fought each other in the 1967 and 1973 Mideast wars. Their last direct military confrontation was in neighboring Lebanon in 1982, when Israel's air force shot down dozens of Syrian warplanes and Israel destroyed Syrian tanks.

Israel has dismissed recent calls by Syria to restart peace talks, citing the Damascus regime's continued support for Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah.

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