Former Vice President Dick Cheney reveals in his memoirs out this week that he had urged George W. Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor but the President and his senior advisors rejected the idea, still feeling burned by "the bad intelligence we had received" about Iraq’s WMDs prior to the 2003 invasion of that country.
"I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor," Cheney wrote, but Bush preferred diplomatic pressure.
Cheney had felt bombing the Syrian reactor would send “an important message not only to the Syrians and North Koreans, but also to the Iranians,” Bush wrote in his own memoir last year.
The President had earlier turned down a similar request in a phone call from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who had pleaded, "George, I’m asking you to bomb the (Syrian) compound." Bush wrote that he felt "bombing a sovereign country with no warning or announced justification would create a severe blowback" and the CIA could not assure him the Syrian reactor was a military program. Olmert called Bush’s decision "very disturbing," Bush wrote, adding that Olmert did not ask for an American "green light" before it did the job itself in September 2007.
When it comes to bombing enemy nuclear facilities, Cheney has an interesting history.
Cheney also failed to convince Bush to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities late in their second term. He was peeved that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had told Saudi King Abdullah that it wasn’t under consideration because “the president would be impeached if he took military action against Iran.” That was "inappropriate," Cheney said.
Although the Bush administration was supportive of the attack on Syria, albeit after the fact, was not the case when Israel destroyed the Iraqi Osiraq reactor.
The Ronald Reagan administration strongly condemned the Israel’s historic Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1981 and imposed some unilateral "punishment," in the words of Prime Minister Menachem Begin by suspending delivery of F-16 fighters, suspended security cooperation discussions and launched an investigation of the legality of the raid because American military hardware was used for offensive action.
Saddam’s Arab neighbors might not have been as upset about the Israeli raid as the Reagan administration was. While they publicly condemned the Zionist entity, they were privately cheering, a CIA briefer told a closed-door briefing for the House Foreign Affairs Committee a few days later.
Reagan later that year also took several other steps to punish Israel for bombing PLO headquarters in Beirut and extending Israeli law to the Golan Heights. Begin accused Reagan of treating Israel like a banana republic.
At the United Nations, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, considered a good friend of Israel and critic of the UN’s disproportionate treatment of the Jewish state, called the attack "shocking" and compared it to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She collaborated with Saddam Hussein’s ambassador to draft the unanimous Security Council resolution that "strongly condemned" the attack as a "clear violation" of the UN charter.
It is on the basis of that resolution – and Israel’s admission that it had done the deed — that the current Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, reaching new levels of chutzpah, is demanding Israel pay compensation for the destroyed reactor.
He conveniently ignores the possibility that if the reactor had not been destroyed Saddam might have been able to build a nuclear weapon to fulfill his ambition of destroying Israel.
Dick Cheney was Wyoming’s at-large congressman when the reactor was destroyed. Almost exactly 10 years later, when he was George H.W. Bush’s secretary of defense, he essentially apologized for the Reagan administration’s harsh condemnation of the Israeli raid.
During a visit to Israel after the first Gulf War he presented Gen. David Ivry, the air force chief of staff who’d planned the attack, a satellite photo of the destroyed reactor with an inscription reading, "For General David Ivri, with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi Nuclear Program in 1981, which made our job much easier in Desert Storm." Ten years later, Ivry would be Israel’s ambassador to Washington.
Incidentally, Iran had tried unsuccessfully to bomb the reactor on Sept. 30,1980, using two US-built F-4 Phantoms. Iraq blamed it on Israel, and I asked a senior Israeli air force general about it at the time. "If it was us, we wouldn’t have missed," he told me, in what I wrongly chalked up to the usual Israeli bravado. As for the distance of more than 1,000 miles through Jordanian and Saudi airspace? Not so far he said, "I’ve flown over it myself."