Israel confirms airstrike on Syria


MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

JERUSALEM — Nearly a month after a mysterious Israeli military airstrike in Syria generated political aftershocks from Washington to North Korea, the Israeli government lifted its official veil of secrecy Tuesday.

It didn’t provide much new information about what took place Sept. 6, however. While its government censor cleared the way for journalists here to report that the incident had taken place, rigid rules remained in effect that ban reporting what the target was, what troops were involved or why the strike was ordered.

Israel lifted its ban on reporting that the attack took place after Syrian President Bashar Assad told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Israeli jets had hit an “unused military building.” But Israeli officials refused to say anything about the attack, and almost no one who’d be expected to know — from government officials to former intelligence officers — is talking.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of the opposition Likud party, was widely criticized last week after giving a television interview in which he became the first elected leader to say that Israel had launched the attack.

Theories

The dearth of information has allowed fertile speculation: The strike was a dry run for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The target was an Iranian missile cache bound for Hezbollah Islamic fighters in Lebanon. The attack hit a fledgling Syrian-North Korean nuclear weapons program. Or it was meant to thwart efforts to provide Hezbollah with a “dirty bomb” to use against Israel.

This being the Middle East, however, the simplest theories generally are discounted in favor of more convoluted explanations. One of the latest theories is that North Korea told the United States it had sold nuclear technology to Syria, which prompted the U.S. to tell Israel that North Korea had sold nuclear technology to Syria, which prompted Israel to attack the North Korean technology in Syria.

The problem of separating fact from fiction is compounded by the fact that all sides routinely leak distorted, exaggerated or downright bogus information to conceal the truth and wage psychological warfare on one another.

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