JERUSALEM – Israel's chief of military intelligence was ordered not to discuss an alleged air raid on Syria before a powerful parliamentary panel, tightening the veil of secrecy the government has thrown around the issue.
Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, said he instructed Israel's military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin to avoid any mention of Syria at a committee meeting Sunday. Panel members regularly report to journalists during and after committee meetings.
In a statement some participants saw as an oblique reference to the alleged Syria raid, Yadlin told the meeting, "Israel's deterrence has been rehabilitated since the Lebanon war, and it affects the entire regional system, including Iran and Syria," according to a lawmaker who was present.
The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the meeting's contents to the media.
Foreign news reports have suggested that Israel struck a Syrian site designed to make non-conventional weapons, possibly a nuclear installation built with North Korean help.
John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told Israeli Channel 10 TV he thought Israel might have been attacking a nuclear installation, "a message not only to Syria, but to Iran."
"I think it would be unusual for Israel to conduct a military operation inside Syria other than for a very high value target, and certainly a Syrian effort in the nuclear weapons area would qualify," Bolton said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Bolton, who has long called for a hard line against the Syrian and Iranian regimes, did not indicate he had firsthand information about the incident.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Foreign Minister Song Min-soon dismissed allegations Monday that North Korea was cooperating with Syria on a nuclear weapons program.
"Now, no one is talking about the suspicions regarding North Korea and Syria with a clear basis," Yonhap news agency quoted Song as telling reporters. The Foreign Ministry said it could not immediately confirm the report.
Song went on to say that Syria does not have a nuclear facility as far as he knows, according to Yonhap.
A state-run newspaper in Syria said in an editorial Sunday referring to the nuclear allegations that "the magnitude of these false accusations might be a prelude to a new aggression against Syria." Al-Thawra said suggestion of such nuclear cooperation was "a flagrant lie."
In the past, Israel often has been swift to announce such operations. This time, Syria cryptically announced the incident, saying its air space had been entered and that Israel had "dropped munitions." Syria has offered no evidence of any Israeli attack.
One possible explanation is that Israel was on an intelligence-gathering mission, testing Syria's air defenses, scouting an air corridor for a future strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, or hitting a shipment of arms destined for Hezbollah, a close ally of Syria and Iran.
Syria and Israel fought each other in the 1967 and 1973 Mideast wars. Their last direct military confrontation was in neighboring Lebanon in 1982, when Israel's air force shot down dozens of Syrian warplanes and Israel destroyed Syrian tanks.
Israel has dismissed recent calls by Syria to restart peace talks, citing the Damascus regime's continued support for Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah.