Revealed: Israel’s Attack Against the Syrian Nuclear Reactor. 2007.
Israel revealed details of the attack that destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor that has been kept under wraps since the raid in 2007. It is a dramatic story of military intelligence, espionage, the tensions over the political decision to launch an attack, and the execution of the plan.
This is the first time that Israel admitted responsibility for the raid and it was revealed with newly declassified material.
Israel came across this covert site after Omar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, confessed to have been building a nuclear reactor in his country back in 2003. This put Israeli military intelligence in a spin. If Gaddafi had begun to build a dangerous nuclear facility perhap other rogue regimes were also in the process of going nuclear.
They began to research if other Middle East regimes were also developing a nuclear capability. They began to shadow Abdul Kadir Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, who had been hawking his wares around the world. The Israeli Mossad had strong evidence that he helped Iran launch its nuclear program.
They tracked Khan’s movements to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but alarms went off when they discovered he was in contact with the Syrians.
Israel began to suspect that an agricultural research station located in the Syrian desert, some 400 kilometers from the capital in Damascus, was a North Korean built nuclear facility, but they didn’t know for sure if the project was to enrich uranium or to produce plutonium for military purposes. They needed to be 100% certain that it was for military purposes.
Mossad agents on the ground in Syria reported suspicious truck movements into the desert area of the so-called agricultural research station.
Israel asked the CIA if they had any information. The reply was negative.
The Mossad began to monitor Syrian communications and followed Ibrahim Othman, the Syrian delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, to IATA board meetings in Vienna. They broke into his apartment and found a treasure trove of vital information which was sent to the Israeli laboratories for analysis.
Among the portfolio were photographs of Othman with North Korean scientists inside the facility which clearly showed it to be a reactor producing plutonium.
The startling information was rushed to Prime Minister Olmert who immediately asked President George Bush if he intended to take action against this now dangerous covert nuclear facility. The answer was negative.
Olmert instructed Gadi Ashkenazi, the IDF Chief of Staff to prepare a plan to destroy the facility.
Politically and tactically, there was a heated dispute in Israel between the Prime Minister who wanted to take immediate action and Ehud Barak, the Defense Minister, who wanted to hold up an attack. There were impending elections and the feeling was that Barak wanted to delay the attack until he had been elected prime minister so that he could take the credit for a successful outcome of a military strike.
Time was pressing. Intelligence showed that the reactor would become “hot” within a matter of months. This would make a raid untenable due to the radioactive fallout that would result from the devastating destruction of the nuclear plant.
Orders were given to send sufficient planes with ordinance that would totally destroy the facility making it impossible for the Syrians to reconstruct it.
The code name of the operation was “Arizona’ as eight warplanes took off from the Hazerim and Ramon air bases in Israel an hour before midnight on September 5 2007. Flying low and with radio silence they flew over enemy territory avoiding radar detection until they reached their target in the dead of night and dropped they payloads with accuracy destroying the reactor within three minutes.
There were no ceremonies or fanfares on the pilot’s return. All involved knew of the major and historical significance of the operation but it had to remain covert for diplomatic reasons.
Assad complained that Israel had attacked Syria in the night to which Olmert publicly asked Assad to explain what Israel was supposed to have attacked. Assad knew his bluff had been called. Israel, until now, never publicly admitted its involvement in the destruction of this Syrian nuclear reactor. It did, however, inform its western allies, the United States, UK, France, Germany, and Egypt and Jordan. Olmert also called Putin to inform him of Israel’s action.
All remained diplomatically silent.
Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.