Operation Outside the Box - Deir ez-Zor - 2007
The Israeli military confirmed for the first time on 21 March 2018 that it bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria 11 years earlier. It released previously classified video of the attack near Deir Az Zor in 2007. Israel's intelligence minister said the video should warn Iran against developing nuclear weapons.
For two years, the Military Intelligence Directorate worked with the Israeli intelligence community to collect information about the growing Syrian nuclear facility. It began with a hunch and a collection of sensitive information, continued with the recognition of suspicious buildings, and ended with the identification and destruction of the nuclear facility.
After major discoveries were made from 2005 until the beginning of 2007, it was determined that Syria was acting secretly within the nuclear field. The Military Intelligence Directorate began to take-on the challenge: the Research Department of the Directorate established a large-scale team to analyze indications of Syrian nuclear efforts and strategies. Later on, the intelligence collection units outside of the military assisted in gathering information.
During this period of time, the Military Intelligence Directorate collected a number of key details that became the grounds for the attack:
- Towards the end of 2004: Military intelligence and the Mossad collected information that foreign specialists were aiding a nuclear project in Syria.
- January 2006: This was the first time it was suggested that a nuclear facility was being established in Syria. This was an important turning point in the understanding of it. Following this, the Military Intelligence Directorate collected vital information regarding the beginning process of a nuclear facility.
- April 2006: A nuclear facility was identified as a result of research conducted by the Military Intelligence Directorate and intelligence community.
- November 2006: Additional activity in the nuclear field was observed. With time, more aspects of Syrian nuclear efforts were revealed, specifically intensive contact with nuclear elements necessary for the operation of a nuclear facility. National security forces united to complete the operation.
- From the start of 2007 to September of that year, the Military Intelligence Directorate and the Mossad strengthened intelligence collection by gathering groundbreaking intel in order to prove that their information was pointing towards a nuclear facility. The information confirmed the leads were correct and that there was one. From here, it was understood that that the Syrian nuclear project was advancing rapidly, and that all security forces- the Mossad, the IAF, and the Military Intelligence Directorate, had to be united for one common operation.
The unified team succeeded in, among other things, directing a large-scale intelligence operation, which included an accurate estimation of the Syrian nuclear project advancement, a system analysis that provided tactical and strategic intelligence, there by enabling the aerial attack, and finally, organizing the timing of the strike.
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. In Operation Outside the Box, four F-16 jets eliminated a nuclear threat not only to Israel, but to the entire region.
For two years, officials in the Military Intelligence Directorate had been monitoring the Syrian nuclear project. Their intelligence suggested that the facility would become active toward the end of 2007, which prompted the IDF to initiate an attack on the facility. The Israeli Air Force had very little time to prepare the attack and account for possible contingencies, such as retaliation by the Syrian forces. 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.
Shortly after midnight, the Prime Minister, 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 assembled in the aerial war room. From there, they attentively followed all aircraft’s aerial locations and the communication systems. Two different groups of aircraft including the F-16I and the F-15I left the base at 10:30 pm and flew low to stay undetected. The whole operation took four hours.
The Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate estimated that the nuclear facility was damaged beyond repair. As the IDF was preparing for retaliation, it decided that information about the operation shouldn’t be disclosed to the general public at the time. The operation was deemed a success by the Chief of the General Staff. The nuclear facility was destroyed and an escalation in the region prevented.
Syria said its air defences opened fire on Israeli warplanes flying over the northeast of the country in the early hours of Thursday, 6 September 2007. Very few facts were known about the alleged incident. On 12 September 2007 Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper at the 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." 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 12 September 2007 Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper in The New York Times reported that a "Bush administration official said Israel had recently carried out reconnaissance flights over Syria, taking pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea. The administration official said Israeli officials believed that North Korea might be unloading some of its nuclear material on Syria. "The Israelis think North Korea is selling to Iran and Syria what little they have left," the official said. He said it was "unclear whether the Israeli strike [on 07 September 2007] had produced any evidence that might validate that belief."
On 13 September 2007 Glenn Kessler reported in the Washington Post that "North Korea may be cooperating with Syria on some sort of nuclear facility in Syria, according to new intelligence the United States has gathered over the past six months, sources said. 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..."
On 14 September 2007 Andrew Semmel, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy told reporters that North Koreans were in Syria and that Damascus might have had contacts with "secret suppliers" to obtain nuclear equipment. Semmel did not directly accuse the North Koreans, but noted that the A.Q. Khan network might be involved with Syria. "There are indicators that they do have something going on there," he said. "We do know that there are a number of foreign technicians that have been in Syria. We do know that there may have been contact between Syria and some secret suppliers for nuclear equipment. Whether anything transpired remains to be seen. ...So good foreign policy, good national security policy, would suggest that we pay very close attention to that," he said. "We're watching very closely. Obviously, the Israelis were watching very closely."
This flurry of reporting came a few days in advance of a regular round of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear problem, which was anticipated to be held in late September 2007. A group of nuclear experts from the United States, Russia, and China arrived in North Korea on 11 September 2007 on a five-day visit to carry out inspections in the country, and draw up recommendations for shutting down all the country's remaining nuclear facilities.
On 16 September 2007, when asked about possible nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Fox News Sunday that "If such an activity were taking place, it would be a matter of great concern because the president has put down a very strong marker with the North Koreans about further proliferation efforts. And obviously, any effort by the Syrians to pursue weapons of mass destruction would be a concern for us".
On 14 October 2007 The New York Times reported that the 9 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."
Only a few years later, ISIS captured the Deir ez-Zor region.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list