(photo credit: GPO)
Unconfirmed details of Israel's alleged foray into Syrian airspace 10 days ago continued to circulate Sunday in foreign media with a latest report by The Sunday Times.
According to the report, at a rendezvous point on the ground, a Shaldag air force commando team waited to direct their laser beams at the target for the approaching IAF planes. The team had arrived a day earlier, taking up position near a large underground depot. Soon the bunkers were in flames.
According to Israeli sources, the Times continued, preparations for the attack had been going on since late spring, when Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, presented the PM with evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear device from North Korea.
Dagan feared such a device could later be mounted on North-Korean-made Scud-C missiles, the report said.
"This was supposed to be a devastating Syrian surprise for Israel," said an Israeli source to the Times. "We've known for a long time that Syria has deadly chemical warheads on its Scuds, but Israel can't live with a nuclear warhead."
According to an IAF source, the Israeli satellite Ofek 7, launched in June, was diverted from Iran to Syria. It sent out high-quality images of a northeastern area every hour and a half, making it easy for air force officials to spot the facility, the Times reported.
According to the report, early in the summer, Defense Minister Ehud Barak had given the order to double IDF presence in the Golan Heights border with Syria in anticipation of possible retaliation by Damascus in the event of air strikes.
Sergei Kirpichenko, the Russian ambassador to Syria, warned President Bashar al-Assad last month that Israel was planning an attack, but suggested the target was the Golan Heights.
Israeli intelligence sources claim Syrian special forces moved towards the Israeli outpost of Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights. Tension rose, but nobody knew why.
At that point, Barak feared events could get out of control. A decision was then taken to reduce the number of IDF troops on the Golan Heights, signaling to Damascus the tension was over. Syria relaxed its guard shortly before the strike, the report said.
Only three Israeli cabinet ministers are said to have been in the know, according to the report: Olmert, Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. America was also consulted. According to Israeli sources, American air force codes were given to the Israeli air force attachÃ© in Washington to ensure Israel's F15Is would not mistakenly attack their US counterparts, the report said.
Meanwhile, the British Observer claimed that as many as eight F-15 and F-16 fighter jets participated in the operation.
The planes, said the report, were equipped with 'Maverick' heavy missiles and 500 pound bombs. Escorting the pilots high above them was an ELINT (electronic intellgence) gathering aircraft, the report claimed.
The Observer estimated that the IAF was holding a rehearsal ahead of a future operation.
The operation "can be seen as a dry run, a raid using the same heavily modified long-range aircraft, procured specifically from the US with Iran's nuclear sites in mind," the report said.
Meanwhile, US intimations of Syrian nuclear cooperation with North Korea might be a prelude to an attack on Syria, a state-run newspaper said.
The comment published in an editorial in one of the largest state-owned dailies, al-Thawra, came two days after a senior US nuclear official said the North Koreans were in Syria and that Damascus may have had contacts with "secret suppliers" to obtain nuclear equipment.
Al-Thawra predicted that more accusations could well be on their way. "The magnitude of these false accusations might be a prelude to a new aggression against Syria," al-Thawra daily said.
The newspaper called the suggestions of atomic cooperation "a flagrant lie" and said Syria has repeatedly asked the international community to disarm Israel of its nuclear weapons and called for a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction.