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Wrong Move

Photo of Syrian facility Photo: AFP
Photo of Syrian facility Photo: AFP
 
 

Paying the price of our arrogance

Publication of Syrian nuke reactor’s photos recklessly exposed intelligence assets

Alex Fishman
Published: 04.28.08, 09:36 / Israel Opinion

The moment the State of Israel allowed one of its intelligence bodies to hand over the incriminating material to another country, so that it will be presented in civilian forums, Israel in fact no longer had any control over the material.

 

The publication of relatively fresh intelligence information is always problematic, but what happened this time can be termed a reckless intelligence striptease. Now, after we praised ourselves in public and boosted our national moral ahead of the 60th Independence Day celebrations, it is time to start monitoring the damage caused by none other than those in charge of classified information security.

Footage
Images of bombed Syrian nuclear reactor released  / Ynet
(Video) For first time since it was bombed by Israel in September, Yedioth Ahronoth publishes photos from inside Syrian facility
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Those are the people who explain to us how irresponsible the media are – while they proceed to commit the most severe offences, not to mention turning the military censor into a laughing stock.

 

Defense officials are now infuriated by the manner and scope of the publication, which exposed our intelligence capabilities. The problem is not with the satellite photos, but rather, with the photos taken in and around the Syrian reactor. We are not talking about mere archive photos, but rather, relatively recent ones taken by someone inside the facility or around it.

 

It doesn’t matter at all who shot those photos: What we have here is the exposure of capabilities and intelligence sources. We also have a possible exposure of a breach in the Syrian security and intelligence apparatus. The moment these photographs were published, the Syrians were sure to be doing everything in their power to identify and block this breach.

 

There is no way in the world that an intelligence agency would hand over fresh photos of a target taken by its own agents or other sources to a foreign agency, with the knowledge that these photos will be published internationally almost immediately – as if saying: Look at us, we were here.

 

Long-term damage 

There is no kind of diplomatic or political event that justifies the exposure of this kind of intelligence asset; certainly not a Congress hearing dealing with North Korea’s violations while it engages in talks with the US.

 

Syria is a bitter enemy, and the ability to penetrate into the secret core of the enemy is a precious national asset that sometimes has no substitute.

 

If the claims that Israel was the one that handed over the photos to the American Administration are true, this was likely done in order to convince it of the creditably of the information it possessed regarding Syria’s nuclear activity. Yet had the Americans presented the photos to the North Koreans behind closed doors, without sharing their source , that would have been less problemati. At least it would have spared us the provocation of the Syrians.

 

It is also very likely that someone in Israel has an interest in showcasing to the Americans Israel’s capabilities and how credible our information is, even when it comes to other countries in the region.

 

Yet none of these reasons justifies harming a national intelligence asset. If Israel indeed acquired the photos, it could have showed them to the Americans but not hand them over.

 

Intelligence officials on both sides may have had agreements about what should be published and how. Yet the moment such material falls into the hands of Israeli and American politicians, who are making use of it for domestic purposes, all these agreements are worth nothing.

 

In the short-term they may be able to argue that no damage has been done and that, on the contrary, Israel’s deterrence capabilities were boosted – there’s nobody like us in the world. However, in the long-run we shall be paying the price for this boastfulness.

 

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