From the very first suspicions to the execution: This is how Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007.
Photo Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit
Israel revealed on Wednesday that it was responsible for the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, ending more than a decade of secrecy. Though some details still remain classified, here’s what we now know of the events leading up to the attack.
August 2006: First suspicions arise
Israeli security authorities first became suspicious that the Syrians are building a nuclear facility after seeing a satellite image in mid-2006. It showed an isolated building in the middle of a large desert. “It was a remote location, disconnected from any populated area,” said Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, who then headed the IDF Intelligence Directorate. “From that moment on, we activated all of our intelligence sensors … in order to find out what was in that building.”
According to foreign reports, Israel’s Mossad managed to obtain vital information from the computer of the head of the Syrian nuclear energy commission. It was this information that ultimately completed the picture.
March 2007: The proof
Upon receiving the information, which proved beyond a doubt that Syria was in the process of making plutonium for a nuclear bomb with help from North Korea, Yadlin asked to meet urgently with then-IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi. “He put the documents in front of me and said, ‘Remember the suspicions? Well, here it is,'” Ashkenazi said.
Over the next weeks, Israel carefully monitored the construction of the facility in order to pick the exact right time to destroy it before it was “hot,” meaning operational.
April 2007: US goes in – and out
Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of Israel at the time, asked then-US President George W. Bush to intervene by attacking the Syrian reactor. The idea was put to a vote at the National Security Council, where it was rejected by everyone expect then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
Washington then proposed to bring the issue to the attention of the UN Security Council, but Olmert urged Bush not to, fearing it would lead to the exposure of the information. He promised that Israel would take care of it by herself.
September 6, 2007: The day of the attack
Not even the pilots who carried out the strike knew about it until the very last minute. “You can imagine the feeling that swept the room when the code word was said for the destruction of the reactor,” Ashkenazi recounted.
Two days after the strike, a container that had fallen off one of the Israeli jets was found in Turkey. “That was our only mistake in that operation,” said Ashkenazi. “I knew the Turkish Chief of Staff personally, so I decided to call him up and explain. He understood.”