How Israel prevented ISIS from going nuclear
by Michael Freund
The entire free world owes Israel an enormous debt of gratitude.
Were it not for a prescient strike against a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, which foreign media sources credit Israel with carrying out, the fanatics of Islamic State would now be in possession of their own nuclear facility.
This revelation came to light thanks to a recent article on the NK News website by former US diplomat Dennis P. Halpin, who highlighted an intriguing tidbit of information that was otherwise almost completely ignored by the mainstream press.
Back on June 30, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which aims to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, posted a satellite imagery brief which revealed that, "The destroyed reactor site in Syria is now under the control of ISIL/Daesh [Islamic State, or IS], which is apparently dismantling and possibly conducting excavation activities at the site."
Halpin, who is currently a visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, was the first to point out the significance of the satellite data and he did not mince words in describing it: "If it were not for 'Operation Orchard' – the Israeli air strike conducted on the Al Kibar reactor on September 6, 2007 – ISIL fighters could well be armed today with atomic weaponry rather than just captured U.S. tanks and Kalashnikov rifles."
According to foreign media reports, Israeli special forces along with aircraft hit the atomic facility, which the Syrian government was building with help from North Korea, in the Deir ez-Zor region of the country.
On April 24, 2008, more than seven months later, the White House press secretary issued an unusual statement saying that Syria had indeed been "building a covert nuclear reactor in its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium."
Based on intelligence, the US said there was "good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on September 6 of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes," and it noted that "after it was destroyed, the regime moved quickly to bury evidence of its existence. This cover-up only served to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was not intended for peaceful activities."
Now jump back to the present, and consider what the current situation might be had that Syrian reactor been left in place: it would now be in the hands of IS.
Just the thought of a nuclear-armed Islamic State, which enthusiastically revels in the shedding of blood, should be enough to send chills down the spine.
The group, which now controls swathes of Iraq and Syria equivalent in size to Great Britain, has made headlines over the past year thanks to its expansionist and genocidal ideology, and aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in order to rule the world.
It has shown a penchant for the macabre, releasing videos in which its fighters have proudly beheaded, crucified or burned captives alive.
And as the BBC's Andrew Hosken notes in his new book, Empire of Fear: Inside the Islamic State, the terrorist group's objective is to take over the entire Middle East, all of North Africa and even parts of Europe by 2020.
Hosken is also convinced, as he told the UK Daily Express on August 11, that IS would not hesitate to employ chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to achieve its goals.
"If they had weapons of mass destruction, they would use them," he said, adding, "There is no question about that."
Needless to say, when the Syrian reactor was destroyed eight years ago, there were those who were quick to criticize the Jewish state for its actions.
Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told CNN that the Israeli attack "to me is very distressful." If countries had information about covert nuclear programs, "they should come to us," he said.
In retrospect, it is now clear just how judicious Israel's preemptive attack was, for it not only prevented the brutal regime of Bashar Assad from developing nuclear weapons, but also averted a scenario in which IS would have its bloodstained fingers on the nuclear trigger, able to blackmail the world.
El Baradei and others who lambasted Israel for its actions owe the Jewish state a heartfelt apology.
Islamic State's capture of the bombed-out Syrian reactor once again underlines Israel's central – and often underappreciated – role on the front lines of the West's struggle against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
Instead of constantly smacking Israel with criticism, the Obama administration and its European comrades should be praising the Jewish state.
Israel remains the Western world's only reliable ally in the Middle East, a bulwark against the forces of darkness and despotism.
Indeed, by taking out the Syrian reactor, Israel may very well have saved humanity from the prospect of a nuclear-armed IS wreaking havoc in the Middle East and beyond.
And for that, the world has Israel to thank.