An attack on a Syrian reactor

Ten years after a tell-all in the New Yorker, remembering the Israeli operation to destroy Syria's reactor.

An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli airforce pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel December 29, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli airforce pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel December 29, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Ten years ago last week, on September 6, 2007, Israel reportedly bombed an eastern Syrian complex which was reportedly a nuclear reactor being built with the assistance of North Korea. The planned attack had begun months before in a quiet Vienna neighborhood.
In an article for The New Yorker, David Makovsky painted a graphic picture of the preparations surrounding the secret operation: “In the first days of March 2007, Mossad agents made a daring raid on the Vienna home of Ibrahim Othman, the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. Othman was in town attending a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, and had stepped out. In less than an hour, the Mossad operatives swept in, extracted top-secret information from Othman’s computer, and left without a trace.”
Innovative measures aren’t always heralded on the front page of The New York Times or International Herald Tribune. Such was the case when the Israel Air Force struck, according to foreign sources, a suspected nuclear site northwest of Damascus on that September day. In the aftermath of the attack, global attention focused on Syria’s nuclear ambitions, but little was released about the actual incursion.
Few knew that prior to the incursion then-prime minister Ehud Olmert had contacted US president George W. Bush and asked the US to bomb the compound that housed the nuclear facility. According to Bush, an intelligence report had crossed his desk noting a “well-hidden facility in the eastern desert of Syria.”
The former president felt he had no clear justification for such a move and declined Olmert’s request.
On September 6, I met with Olmert.
Behind his desk sat a picture of him and George W. Bush standing back-to-back.
The dedication written on the picture said, “I have your back.” Ehud told me that the president had offered to send secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to Israel on a diplomatic mission, and the prime minister refused. Olmert said, “No, we don’t need diplomacy; I need you to take it out – or I will.” President Bush declined; Olmert gave the green light for an attack.
As information on the mission began to emerge, it was revealed that this was likely the first incidence of “electronic” combat – also called “non-kinetic” warfare.
Such warfare involves the use of electromagnetic transmissions to alter, destroy, or seize the opposition’s military systems without initiating perceptible loss. It is, in essence, military computer hacking and electronic intelligence methods designed to reduce enemy capabilities. Israel discovered it was not only conceivable, but doable.
As the incursion was being made ready, an Israeli strike force slipped into Tall al-Abyad, Syria, a border town near Turkey. The group disabled two radar systems, enabling Israeli jets to overfly airspace without detection by the Syrian air force. That was a major coup, as Syrian radar defenses were considered the most complex and exhaustive in the Middle East.
The actual bombing run was reportedly carried out by 10 Israeli F-15I Ra’am fighter jets attached to the IAF 69th Squadron. According to a 2013 article at Pravda Report the aircraft were armed with laser-guided bombs and were escorted by F-16I Sufa fighter jets. Three of the F-15s were reportedly ordered back to base, while the remaining seven continued towards Syria.
In the early morning hours, Israeli pilots whispered, “Arizona,” the code to alert those in Jerusalem who were monitoring the mission that the reactor had been destroyed and not a pilot had been lost.
Following the attack, Olmert reportedly contacted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to inform him of the circumstances. Erdogan was then asked to forward a communique to Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
The message in blunt form: “Don’t try to build another nuclear plant.”
The Syrian dictator was urged not to make media fodder of the attack, and was assured the Israelis would show restraint as well. Caught in a trap of his own making, Assad could not retaliate for the destruction of a nuclear reactor he averred did not exist.
Questions to Israeli sources regarding how the feat was accomplished were met with restrained silence by Israel and a false report by the Syrian Arab News Agency. It was erroneously stated that the Israelis “dropped some ammunition” and departed Syrian airspace leaving behind no damage.
After the successful attack, Olmert visited president Bush in the White House. The president invited Ehud upstairs to the private residence where he opened a closet and offered the prime minister a cigar. The two men walked out on the Truman Balcony overlooking the south lawn; each lit a cigar in celebration of the successful attack on Syria’s nuclear site.
The area of Syria that housed the reactor is now home to Islamic State terrorists. Who knows what evil would have been perpetrated had the Syrians been left to develop nuclear capabilities? As with the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Osirak facility prior to the ISIS takeover in Iraq, the world owes a great debt of gratitude to Israel.
The author is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, the founder of the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem and a member of President Donald Trump’s Founding Faith Board.