Three Minutes over Syria

The Fellowship  |  March 21, 2018

A jet flying over the sun.
Three Minutes over Syria

Israel has just declassified a secret mission in 2007 that helped rid the Middle East of a potential threat. Writing at The Times of Israel, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv tell us the compelling story of how IAF pilots bombed a Syrian reactor that very well could have provided dictator Bashar al-Assad with nuclear weapons:

After more than a decade of stubborn silence, Israel has finally acknowledged that its Air Force destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor, on the night between September 5 and 6, 2007. Built by North Korea, the reactor was designed to produce plutonium as fissile material for nuclear bombs. This is the inside story of the attack itself, and the intelligence gathering process — successes and failures — that facilitated it, as disclosed by the central players themselves.

Eight F-15s and F-16s took off from the Hatzerim and Ramon air bases, in the south of the country, an hour or so before midnight on September 5, and flew silently toward their target. Protected by sophisticated electronic jamming systems that blinded Syria’s air defenses, the Israeli planes had no trouble dropping tons of explosives on the target, which was camouflaged as an agricultural farm, and were able to confirm visually that, in three potent minutes, it had been flattened. The danger that an Arab enemy bordering Israel would attain the doomsday weapon was removed.

Returning from their mission, the pilots reported back “Arizona” — the code word that meant the operation had been accomplished.

Israel’s top political-security echelon, then led by prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and other cabinet ministers and military and intelligence chiefs, sighed with collective relief at the news. Operation “Out of the Box” was a success.

When they landed safely back home at 2 a.m. on September 6, the pilots did not celebrate.

“There were no ceremonies, and no fanfare,” Major (now Colonel) T, one of the pilots of the “Hammers” squadron, told The Times of Israel in a recent interview. “Of course, we understood the historic significance of our accomplishment, but we had to restrain ourselves,” he said. “Secrecy and compartmentalization were of the utmost importance.” What had taken place that night was to remain on a strict need-to-know basis.

The destruction of President Bashar Assad’s nuclear reactor constitutes one of Israel’s most important, and most sensitive, military-strategic achievements in recent years. A decade later, however, it is still the subject of egotistical battles regarding credit and prestige between intelligence chiefs and political leaders…