Israel has officially admitted the IDF was responsible for the elimination of a nuclear facility in northeastern Syria in September 2007, although it was already widely believed to be behind the aerial attack at the time. “Four F-16 jets eliminated a nuclear threat not only to Israel, but to the entire region,” the IDF said in a statement.

Nuclear facility after Israel's operation

Nuclear facility after Israel’s operation Photo Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

One decade after the destruction of a nuclear facility in northeastern Syria, the IDF has released for publication that Israel was behind the airstrikes, which were part of a long-spanning secret operation, as the foreign press reported at the time. Israeli media was not permitted to reveal details about the operation behind the historical event, until Wednesday.

“During the night of September 5th and 6th, 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a nuclear facility in its last stages of construction in the Deir ez-Zor region in Syria, 280 miles north-east of Damascus,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit revealed in its statement. “Four F-16 jets eliminated a nuclear threat not only to Israel, but to the entire region.”

Now declassified, the IDF said Operation Orchard, as it was dubbed, spanned two years. Israel’s military intelligence had closely monitored Syria’s nuclear ambitions, which were nearing completion at the time of the airstrikes. “The Israeli Air Force had very little time to prepare the attack and account for possible contingencies, such as retaliation by the Syrian forces,” said the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. “Once the attack plan was ready, however, it was possible to execute it within 12 hours from the moment the order was to be given.”

The air operation took a total of four hours to complete. Shortly after midnight on September 6, 2007, and two hours after the aircraft took off, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened in the IDF’s aerial war room along with the Israeli defense minister, minister of foreign affairs, chief of the general staff, deputy chief of the general staff, head of the Military Intelligence Directorate and head of the Operations Directorate.

The leaders closely monitored the attack while the IDF prepared for any kind of retaliation. After the aircraft struck the facility, the Military Intelligence Directorate assessed that it was damaged beyond repair; the operation was deemed a success. “The nuclear facility was destroyed and an escalation in the region prevented,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit concluded. 

Shortly after the elimination of the facility, foreign media outlets began unveiling details the operation and its background. Nearly all hailed Israel as the responsible party behind the attack. The reports claimed that before Israel conducted its airstrikes, Israeli and US leadership had shared intelligence on the facility. Olmert shared his concerns with the US president at the time, George. W Bush, who wrote in his memoir, “Decision Points,” that Israel requested that the US assist in carrying out the attack on the facility. The White House reportedly declined the request, prompting Israel to react on its own.

At the time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had confirmed that the site was likely a nuclear reactor facility. Several reports claimed the site was established in collaboration with North Korea, which supplied Damascus with its nuclear facility model. These claims were never confirmed and Israel did not provide any comments on them.

The facility intact, before the IDF's airstrikes

The facility intact, before the IDF’s airstrikes Photo Credit:IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

After the revelation on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a statement: “Today, we can reveal what we did at the [Security] Cabinet in September 2007. Some pushed for it, some hesitated. The historical and brave decision we made proved back then as well as today, that on the subject of national security, one cannot be deterred.”

“Try to imagine what would happen if we had not acted,” Liberman continued. “We would have gotten a nuclear Syria. The motivation of our enemies has increased in recent years, but so has the IDF’s might; our air force and intelligence capabilities have grown in size compared to those we had in 2007. This equation must be internalized by everyone in the Middle East.”