06 September 2007 Airstrike
When the facts change,
I change my mind.
What do you do, sir?
John Maynard Keynes
"The wicked flee when no man pursueth:
but the righteous are bold as a lion."
It appears that the Syrian nuclear program came as a surprise to both the Israelis and the Americans. Neither had previously acted or spoken as though Syria had nuclear ambitions, and both acted awfully peculiar after the air strike. This would explain Israeli silence, namely that Syria had been working on it for years and the Israelis had not noticed until very recently. It would also explain the complete incoherence of the US leakint in the weeks after the event. If the US had already had a file on the place, the place name would have come out pretty fast, along with a coherent explanation for what it was, but this was not the case. The sequence of events in the news coverage suggests that the US took the better part of September and October to figure out what was going on and figure out how they missed it.
Syria said its air defences reportedly opened fire on Israeli warplanes flying over the northeast of the country in the early hours of Thursday 06 September 2007. Very few facts are known about the alleged incident. Local residents were reported to have claimed to have heard the sound of five or more planes above the Tal al-Abiad area on Syria's border with Turkey, around 160 km (100 miles) north of the Syrian city of Rakka. One Syrian official was quoted by Reuters on 07 September 2007 as saying: "They dropped bombs on an empty area while our air defenses were firing heavily at them."
The Syrian official news agency SANA stated that Israeli aircraft had "infiltrated Syrian airspace through the northern border coming from the direction of the Mediterranean and headed towards northeastern territory, breaking the sound barrier. ... The Syrian Arab Republic warns the government of the Israeli enemy and reserves the right to respond according to what it sees fit..." Syria warned that it was weighing its response to the Israeli "aggression". Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told Al-Jazeera television that his country was "giving serious consideration to its response... to this aggression ... This shows that Israel cannot give up aggression and treachery".
On 08 September 2007 Turkey asked Israel for clarification after finding two fuel tanks on its territory near the Syrian border allegedly belonging to Israeli warplanes. The jettisoned fuel tanks were discovered late on Thursday 06 September 2007 in the Turkish provinces of Hatay and Gaziantep, near the Syrian border. This came a few hours after Damascus had accused Israel of bombing its territory.
The Israeli government and military initially remained silent about the incident. The Israeli military spokesman's office said in a statement: "It is not our custom to respond to these kinds of reports." But the office typically has commented on such reports. In October 2003 Israeli warplanes bombed an empty Palestinian militant training camp in Syria. And in June 2006, Israeli warplanes flew over a palace in northern Syria while President Bashar al-Assad was inside, in what Damascus condemned as an "act of piracy". These operations were confirmed by the Israeli military. It appeared the government imposed a news blackout on the issue. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that there would be no comment beyond the military statement.
Analysts were initially divided over whether the [unconfirmed] flight was a tactic of intimidation, or a reconnaissance mission of some sort, or operation intending to test Syrian air defense systems. Other hypotheses have posited that Israel was on an intelligence-gathering mission, scouting an air corridor for a future strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
On 10 September 2007 a [background source] started pitching a story that the air strike had destroyed a uranium pilot enrichment plant that Syria had obtained from North Korea. As far as can be detected, this story did not have legs at that time and no news organization moved it. Michael Corleone [From the Godfather] observed: "it insults my intelligence -- and makes me very angry."
On 11 September 2007 a US government official confirmed [on background] that Israeli warplanes were targeting weapons from Iran and destined for Hizballah militants in Lebanon. On 12 September 2007 Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper in The New York Times reported that "Officials in Washington said that the most likely targets of the raid were weapons caches that Israel's government believes Iran has been sending the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah through Syria. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah's primary benefactors, and American intelligence officials say a steady flow of munitions from Iran runs through Syria and into Lebanon."
On 13 September 2007 Glenn Kessler reported in the Washington Post that " ... a former Israeli official said he had been told that it was an attack against a facility capable of making unconventional weapons."
On 15 September 2007 Glenn Kessler reported in the Washington Post that American sources said that Israel had recently provided the US with evidence -- code named "Orchard" -- that the DPRK had been cooperating with Syria on a nuclear facility. "The evidence, said to come primarily from Israel, includes dramatic satellite imagery ... The new information, particularly images received in the past 30 days, has been restricted to a few senior officials ... " According to one source for this report, the 06 September 2007 air strike appeared to have been linked to the arrival at the Syrian port of Tartus on 03 September 2007 [three days prior to the strike], of a ship carrying material ["labeled as cement"] from North Korea. According to this source, the target of the attack was a Syrian facility "agricultural research center" located "on the Euphrates River, close to the Turkish border". Israel had reportedly been monitoring the facility in the belief that Syria was "using it to extract uranium from phosphates" at that location.
On 16 September 2007 the UK newspaper The Observer reported that Israel's strike against Syria involved as many as eight aircraft, including F-15s and F-16s equipped with Maverick missiles and 500 pound bombs, along with an electronic intelligence gathering aircraft. On 16 September 2007 the Sunday Times reported that an IAF commando team arrived on the ground several days before the attack to direct laser beams at the target for the jets.
On 16 September 2007 the Sunday Times quoted an Israeli source as saying that Syria had been planning a "devastating surprise" for Israel, in the wake of reports that the Israel Air Force carried out an air strike against a North Korean nuclear shipment to Syria. The paper reported that Israeli sources said planning for the strike began in late spring 2007 when Mossad director Meir Dagan presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear weapon from North Korea. This news account implies but never actually asserts that the target of the Israeli attack was in fact a North Korean nuclear weapon.
On 16 September 2007 former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said "it will be very unusual for Israel to conduct such a military operation inside Syria other (than) for a very high value target and certainly a Syrian effort in nuclear weapon area will qualify. ... I think this is a clear message not only to Syria, this is a clear message to Iran as well that its continued efforts to acquire nuclear weapons are not going to go unanswered..." Bolton never claims direct knowledge of the facts of the matter, only that a strike against Syrian nuclear capabilities would be in the interest of Israel.
On 16 September 2007 it was reported by AFP that military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Israel had recovered its "deterrent capability" after the air strike in Syria. "The new situation affects the entire region, including Iran and Syria," local media reported. But Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the parliamentary committee, told reporters he instructed the military intelligence chief to avoid any mention of Syria at a committee meeting. And Yadlin's statement to the meeting, "Israel's deterrence has been rehabilitated since the Lebanon war, and it affects the entire regional system, including Iran and Syria ..." seems to have far more to do with an assessment of the July 2006 Op Change of Direction than it did to striking purported Syrian nuclear capabilities.
When the Yediot Aharonot poll asked Israeli Jews "According to foreign media reports, Israel attacked nuclear targets in Syria. Do you support or oppose this action?". 78% supported it, only 10% were opposed. (The rest gave no opinion.)
By 20 September 2007 the Washington Post editorialized "Media accounts are beginning to converge on a report that Israel bombed a facility where it believed Syria was attempting to hatch its own nuclear weapons program with North Korea's assistance. ... is beginning to look as if Israel may have carried out the boldest act of nuclear preemption since its own 1981 raid against Iraq's Osirak nuclear complex. If so, its silence is shrewd. It has allowed Syria to avoid a military response ... The non-news has boosted the previously rock-bottom poll numbers of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "
Writing in the Washington Post on October 7, 2007, Jim Hoagland reported that " ... highly classified U.S. intelligence reports say that the Israelis destroyed a nuclear-related facility and caused North Korean casualties at the site, which may have been intended to produce plutonium, according to a senior official with access to those reports. The Israelis have provided the United States with photographs, physical material and soil samples from the site -- taken both before and after the raid -- according to two independent sources."
Writing in the Washington Post on October 7, 2007, David Ignatius reported that an "informed official" had told him that ".... Israel's Sept. 6 strike against a target in Syria ... was an attack on nuclear materials supplied to Syria by North Korea, and that the United States and Israel had shared information before the raid ... the message to Iran is clear: America and Israel can identify nuclear targets and penetrate air defenses to destroy them."
On 10 October 2007 Syria took journalists on a tour of the site at Dayr az Zawr, Syria that Israel had allegedly bombed. The New York Times reported the visit on 11 October 2007, stating that there was no evidence of either a nuclear program or an Israeli air strike at the facility. Ron Ben-Yishai, a reporter for the daily Yediot Acharonot had visited the site some days previously, and reported that the government facility here was the one attacked during the raid. The Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands is a government agricultural research center at Deir ez Zor in eastern Syria.
On 14 October 2007 The New York Times reported that the 09 September 2007 Israeli airstrike in Syria was directed against " ... a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel... the American and foreign officials said. They said it would have been years before the Syrians could have used the reactor to produce the spent nuclear fuel ... The partly constructed Syrian reactor was detected earlier this year by satellite photographs... It is possible, some officials said, that the transfer of the technology occurred several years ago."
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list