JERUSALEM - The Israeli military formally acknowledged on Wednesday its destruction of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, saying the air strike removed a major threat to Israel and the region and was a "message" to others.
Wednesday's announcement about "Operation Out of the Box" was made after Israeli military censors lifted a more than 10-year order that had barred Israeli officials from discussing it.
The Israeli military's announcement was followed up by a release of newly declassified materials including photographs and cockpit video said to show the moment that an air strike destroyed the Al-Kubar facility in the desert near Deir-al-Zor, more than 480 km (300 miles) inside Syria.
"The message from the attack on the nuclear reactor in 2007 is that the State of Israel will not allow the establishment of capabilities that threaten Israel's existence," the military chief, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizencot, said in the statement issued on Wednesday.
"This was our message in 2007, this remains our message today and will continue to be our message in the near and distant future."
The timing of Israel’s decision to go public and justify the strike more than a decade ago comes after repeated calls in recent months by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the United States and international community to take tougher action on Syria’s ally, Iran.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that Israel will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon – “not now, not in 10 years, not ever” - or to build missile factories in Syria that could threaten Israel, or provide advanced weapons for Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shi'ite group in Lebanon.
The Trump administration has also been locked in nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea - which the United States has previously said it believed supplied the Al-Kubar reactor.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has deemed it "very likely" that the site "was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared".
Syria, a signatory of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has always denied that the site was a reactor or that Damascus engaged in nuclear cooperation with North Korea.
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the materials released by the Israeli military on Wednesday. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)