JERUSALEM – Israel's former prime minister said Thursday that he can't deny ex-President George W. Bush's claim in a new book that Israel destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria.
It was Ehud Olmert's first public comment on the mysterious September 2007 incident, which happened while he was in office.
At the time, Syria announced that its airspace had been invaded by Israel but said nothing about what had been hit. The Israeli government has remained silent.
In Bush's new memoir, the former president claimed the target was believed to be a Syrian nuclear reactor being built with North Korean assistance.
He said that Israel first asked the U.S. to bomb the site, and after the U.S. turned down the request, Israel carried out an attack itself. Bush also suggested that he approved the mission.
The strike came about a year after Israel's inconclusive war against Hezbollah, in which Lebanese guerrillas battled Israel's powerful army to a stalemate. The poor performance raised questions about Israel's deterrent 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.
"Olmert told me he wanted total secrecy. He wanted to avoid anything that might back Syria into a corner and force (Syrian President Bashar) Assad to retaliate. This was his operation, and I felt an obligation to respect his wishes," Bush wrote.
Speaking to foreign journalists Thursday, Olmert said Israel took a position that "we will never comment on it."
He said he has not read Bush's book, but had seen this section. "I can only say that I don't want (to), and I can't deny it," he said.
Olmert served as prime minister from 2006 until 2009.