Bush defends Iraq war decision in new book
Offering insight into how high-stakes diplomacy can play out very differently if concealed, Bush says the raid showed the Jewish state would go at it alone and "made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis" because of the indecisive war in Lebanon a year before.
He also revealed that Israel first asked the U.S. to bomb the site, but the Bush administration refused.
The section on Syria is just a small part of a memoir that is generating discussion around the world with its surprising candor.
The former president, who has kept a low profile since leaving office nearly two years ago, describes tensions with Vice President Dick Cheney and acknowledges mistakes in his management of key events from the war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina to the decline in the American economy.
Bush's defense of harsh tactics used against terrorist suspects, such as waterboarding, has created uproar in some corners of the globe, especially in Europe.
Israel, one of the few places where Bush remained popular until his last day in office, has been much kinder.
Israeli media have focused on Bush’s praise for ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his support for Israel's tough crackdown on Palestinian militants in the last decade and his hostility toward the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The Sept. 6, 2007, airstrike in Syria remains one of Israel's darkest secrets of recent times. Syria announced at the time that its airspace had been invaded, provided no details. Israel has never commented on the operation.
However, in "Decision Points," published this week, Bush provides the strongest proof yet of reports citing experts and unidentified U.S. intelligence officials that Israel hit a nuclear reactor being built with North Korean assistance.
Bush writes that in spring 2007 U.S. officials suspected that Syria, an enemy of Israel, had been caught "red-handed trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability with North Korean help."
This was based on photos obtained by a foreign intelligence partner of a suspicious building in eastern Syria.
Olmert asked the president "to bomb the compound," Bush writes. The U.S. refused, saying it had only "low confidence" Syria was developing nuclear weapons. Bush wrote that Olmert was disappointed.
The Israeli strike occurred about a year after Israel's war against Hezbollah, in which Lebanese guerrillas fought Israel's powerful army to a stalemate. The poor performance raised questions about Israel's limited capabilities.
"Prime Minister Olmert’s execution of the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the Lebanon war," Bush wrote, adding that the Israeli leader rejected a suggestion to go public with the operation.
In comments that could have repercussions for Iran, Bush noted that the Syrian operation was conducted without coordination with the Americans.