- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

TEL AVIV — Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu came under a hail of criticism yesterday after confirming Israel attacked Syria two weeks ago, breaking an official silence on reports of a provocative attack deep inside Syrian territory.

Israel’s policy of sticking to its “no-comment” has been praised by analysts for allowing Jerusalem to duck potential international rebuke for attacking Syria. The information fog has also spared Damascus additional humiliation that could have pressured Syria to escalate and already tense situation with Israel.

A sarcastic banner headline in the top selling Yediot Ahronot newspaper read, “Netanyahu ‘took responsibility’ for Operation in Syria.”

Since the first reports of the attack, government officials and politicians have stuck to an unusually rare gag rule on the reports that Israel attacked a target linked with a fledgling nuclear program in Syria.

Though most politicians said that little damage was done to Israel’s security from the outburst, the comment was used to impugn the credentials of Mr. Netanyahu, a front-runner in polls to win the next vote for parliament.

“This was a serious, stupid and irresponsible outburst,” said Labor Party lawmaker Eitan Cabel, a member of the governing coalition. “This is a very dangerous way of operating.”

The silence has been compared with Israel’s policy of not commenting for four decades on reports that it possesses nuclear weapons. By hewing to its policy of “nuclear ambiguity,” Israel dodged pressure for international monitors to oversee the country’s nuclear program.

“The nature of the mission those planes were carrying out goes to show that actions are stronger than words,” said Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Israel.

In a prime-time interview to Israel Channel 1 Television news, Mr. Netanyahu said he had congratulated Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the attack.

“I was a partner to the matter from the first moment and gave backing,” he said. “But it is too soon to discuss this matter, and there is time to give all the congratulations.”

Yuval Steinitz, a parliament member from Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party, conceded that the remark was “unsuccessful,” but characterized the criticism of the former prime minister as overboard.

Mr. Olmert’s approval ratings have improved in recent weeks, and analysts say Mr. Netanyahu may have wanted to grab a slice of the credit for the operation. His comments are likely to jog the collective memory of his first stint as prime minister — one in which Mr. Netanyahu became infamous for several provocative remarks on foreign policy.

“This is precisely the “old Bibi” whose image he wanted so badly to get rid off — jumpy, taking credit for other people”s achievements,” wrote Eitan Haber in Yediot Ahronot.

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