Shadow Strike is a thrilling novel exploring the gripping story of the 2007 destruction of the al-Kabar nuclear reactor in Syria.

By Mike Smith, Detroit Jewish News Foundation Archivist

Do you like to read spy novels? Or do you prefer to read about global politics with a dose of international intrigue? Well, I’ve got a book for you: Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power (St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2019) by Yaakov Katz. Forget about picking up the next Tom Clancy novel, Shadow Strike has all the riveting excitement, the secret maneuvers of international spymasters, presidents and prime ministers, and a hugely dramatic climax.

From his extensive interviews with the decision-makers, advisers and planners — American and Israeli — Katz, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, has written a gripping story of the Sept. 6, 2007, destruction of a secret, nearly completed al-Kabar nuclear reactor in Syria. Released this month, Katz’s book comes in the wake of Israel’s rather surprising acknowledgement in March 2018 that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) was indeed the force behind the event.

Katz takes the reader into the White House and the prime minister’s office in Israel, from the moment the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, went to meet with high-level security officials and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, to the roles of President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, including the latter’s bold decision to take action, and the six months of intensive planning required to successfully destroy the reactor — all of which were top-secret endeavors. Shadow Strike is a great read and a well-researched, thoughtful story of a dangerous mission.

Shadow Strike, however, has deeper meaning than just a story of intrigue that ends with a bombing. Israel faced an existential threat to its survival. It is one thing to plan for conventional armed forces with soldiers, tanks and planes. It is another to face a nuclear threat in the hands of leaders, for example, such as Bashar el-Assad, the Syrian leader who is willing to use chemical weapons against his own citizens. And, by using military force for its own interests, did Israel do a huge favor for the Middle East and the world?

The Syrian strike at al-Kabar was not the first time the Israelis felt compelled to act. On June 7, 1981, the IAF destroyed a nuclear reactor in Osirak, Iraq, which was, at the time, a nation ruled by Saddam Hussein, another dictator willing to use chemical weapons. While the Syrian and Iraqi strikes occurred halfway around the globe from Detroit, they were topics of discussion in the national press and, as you might imagine, in the JN.

I found a number of stories about the Iraqi raid in the archive. Perhaps the most interesting were several editorials in the JN. The July 3, 1981, issue of the JN had an editorial titled “The Honor of Self-defense.” It began with this statement: “Israel rendered such an immense service to humanity with the Osirak bombing that the occurrence will continue to dominate international discussions.” The essay is also a primer regarding the politics of and newspaper reporting about the raid, and Israel’s defensive position in the Middle East.

There was also an essay about the Syrian raid — a raid that was unconfirmed at the time, but widely attributed to Israel. Published in the Sept. 20, 2007, issue of the JN, it had a simple title, “Deterrent,” and went on to speculate on the question: Was the Syrian strike a repeat of the Iraqi strike? We now know that it was a second act of the same play.

Shadow Strike is a page-turner, but also a most relevant book. Today, Israel, the United States and the world are still trying to deal with dangerous regimes attempting to gain nuclear weapons.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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