Pilot who bombed Syrian reactor recalls role in history

"We understood the significance of what we were doing."

By
March 21, 2018 05:16
2 minute read.
Colonel A., pilot in the 2007 IAF bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor site

Colonel A., pilot in the 2007 IAF bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor site. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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It was only on September 5 that Lt.-Col. Dror learned what his target would be. For months, he had been training alongside seven other pilots for a longrange strike in an unspecified country.

All Dror knew was the range, and that the target was a building that needed to be destroyed. On some days he would draw an imaginary line in his head using the range for which he was training and try and figure what might be the target. It could have been anywhere from Syria to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or beyond.

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He knew it was something special. As a deputy commander of the Israel Air Force’s 69th “Hammer” Squadron, Dror had flown hundreds of combat operations. In each of those cases he knew the target ahead of time. In this case, though, only a handful of people even knew an operation was being planned.

But on September 5, as prime minister Ehud Olmert convened his security cabinet in Jerusalem to approve the bombing of Syria’s rogue nuclear reactor, at the Hatzerim Air Force Base outside Beersheba, the pilots gathered to be briefed on their mission.

“Your target is a nuclear reactor,” they were told.
Colonel A. on the 2007 IAF bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor site. (Marc Israel Sellem/IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Dror and his fellow airmen were stunned. “We didn’t have that much time to think about it, but it was definitely something that made me stop and say ‘Wow,’” he recalled in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post while standing next to one of the F-15Is that was used in the legendary air strike.

The mission was to be carried out by four F-15Is, Israel’s longest-range aircraft, known by its Hebrew name “Raam” (Thunder) and capable of carrying more than 10 tons of ammunition. They were to be accompanied by four F-16Is, known by their Hebrew name “Sufa” (Storm).

The pilots were handpicked by the IAF brass and included Dror – who had just completed a stint as a deputy squadron commander – along with the squadron commander and a number of other pilots. The oldest was a 46-yea-rold reservist; the youngest was a 26-year-old fresh out of flight school.

“You understand that this is something special, that the mission needs to get done and that you are there, in that exact moment to do it,” Dror explained.

The night before, on September 4, the eight jets carried out one last training run, this time dropping live ammunition on one of the IDF’s exercise grounds in southern Israel. It was a perfect performance, giving the brass indication that the mission would be successful.

On the afternoon of September 5, after the security cabinet vote, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedi arrived at Hatzerim to personally brief the pilots. Dror said the handshakes the IAF commander gave to each of the pilots made a big impression on him.

“He spoke to us about the significance of the operation, but that handshake was something I carried with me to the cockpit,” he said.

For the pilots, the historic significance of what they were doing was clear. This would become the second time that Israel would destroy a nuclear reactor being built by one of its enemies. The first was in 1981, when the IAF bombed the Osirak reactor that Saddam Hussein was building outside of Baghdad.

“The target was special. You don’t attack a nuclear reactor every day and you don’t dream of being a participant in such an operation. The historic significance was very clear to us,” Dror said.

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