That was the codeword Israeli pilots sent around 1 a.m. Sept. 6, 2007, indicating success in a secret bombing run deep into Syria to destroy a nuclear reactor under the control of the Assad government.
Israel acknowledged for the first time Wednesday, March 21, that its air force destroyed a nearly completed Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.
The reactor, believed to have been built with North Korean designs and materials, was designed to produce weapons-grade plutonium for Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad to develop a nuclear arsenal on Israel’s border.
The Deir Ezzor site, 280 miles northeast of Damascus, has changed hands multiple times during Syria’s seven-year civil war, including a period under the control of Islamic State, The Times of Israel reports, noting that the Syrian military might have worked harder to defend the area if it contained a working nuclear plant.
The Israel Air Force struck the reactor early Sept. 6, 2007, with four F-16 fighter-bombers, the Israel Defense Forces revealed. The facility, disguised as a farmhouse, was wiped out in three minutes, The Times of Israel reports in a detailed, inside look at the intelligence, military and political efforts behind the attack.
The 2007 mission has been an open secret almost since it happened. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the opposition leader at the time, told reporters in the weeks after the attack that he had given Prime Minister Ehud Olmert his approval.
David Makovsky wrote a detailed article about the attack for The New Yorker in 2012, the mission’s fifth anniversary.
George W. Bush, who was the president in 2007, wrote about the attack in his 2010 memoir, “Decision Points,” saying that the successful bombing mission restored confidence he had lost in the Israelis after the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
That war may have played a part in Israel’s decision not to tout the Deir Ezzor attack. Keeping it quiet allowed Assad to save face and not retaliate with an attack that could have started Israel’s second major northern war in two years.
More on the 2007 attack:
- Ehud Barak criticizes Olmert’s decision (with a behind-scenes video), via Ynet.
- The engineers of the strike hail its success, via The Times of Israel.
- Politicians praise the announcement, via Hamodia.
- Former Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s account, via Arutz Sheva.
The situation was different from the first application of the Begin Doctrine, when Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent the air force into Iraq to destroy a nuclear reactor in 1981 and announced the successful mission to the world, leading to wide condemnation.
Netanyahu issued a statement Wednesday after the IDF announcement: “The government of Israel, the IDF and the Mossad prevented Syria from developing a nuclear capability. For this they are deserving of all praise. Israel’s policy has been and remains consistent: to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with nuclear weapons.”
At the United Nations, Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, said: “The international community must know that Israel will always protect the security of its citizens and take all necessary steps in the face of threats in our region. Our enemies would be wise not to test Israel’s resolve or question our readiness to defend our nation.”