Daily Israel Report

Exposé on How Israel Knew It had to Bomb Syria Reactor

The Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear strike began with intelligence gathered six months earlier in a daring raid on Austrian home.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 9/10/2012, 9:23 AM

F-16 used in attack on Syrian reactor
F-16 used in attack on Syrian reactor
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear strike began with intelligence gathered six months earlier in a daring raid on the Austrian home of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission director Ibrahim Othman, The New Yorker reported in its new edition.

David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote under the headline “The Silent Strike,” that in March 2007, Mossad agents raided the home following suspicions concerning a large building the Assad regime was building in the northeastern Syrian desert. The nuclear site was known as “Al Kidar.”

Intelligence officials were shocked to discover nearly 40 dozen color photographs that had been taken inside the building and indicated it was hiding a uranium nuclear reactor, built with the help of North Korean scientists.

“The photographs showed workers from North Korea at the site, and the reactor, from the inside, had many of the same engineering elements as the North Korean reactor in Yongbyo,” Makovsky wrote.

Israel informed the White House one month later, but the Bush administration concluded there was not enough substantive evidence to justify a military attack.

Following former Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s daring bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor on Iraq in 1981, establishing a policy that no Arab enemy can be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the strike on Syria’s reactor on September 5, 2007.

Intelligence and military officials agreed that a “low-signature attack” on the reactor was the best tactic, and eight warplanes – four F-15s and four F-16s – took off from Israel shortly before midnight.

As previously reported, the IDF neutralized Syria’s radar system with electronic scrambling devices. Sometime between 12:40 and 12:53 a.m., according to Makovsky, Air Force pilots reported that they had dropped 17 tons of explosives on the nuclear site, which Syria still claims did not house a nuclear reactor.

Despite the success of the operation, Makovsky pointed out it is difficult to use the same strategy to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities because most of them are buried deep underground.

Immediately after the strike on Syria, the Assad regime’s official government news agency SANA reported that Israeli jets had violated Syrian air space and that “Air defense units confronted them and forced them to leave after they dropped some ammunition in deserted areas without causing any human or material damage.”

Israel denied it had bombed the site but since has gradually taken responsibility for the pre-emptive attack.

More than two years ago, Der Spiegel reported that American intelligence agents as early as 2004 picked up unusual conversations between Syria and North Korea. The information as related to Israel, and the IDF set up antenna aimed at Al Kibar.

In 2006, Israeli agents in London were able to install a program on a Syrian official's computer and collected information on construction plans and photographs showing pipes that led to a pumping station at the Euphrates.

One of the photos indentified North Korean nuclear scientists. The following years, Der Spiegel reported, an Iranian general defected to the CIA and revealed that Iran was funding a top-secret project in Syrian in coordination with North Korea.

The next revelation of the Syrian nuclear reactor occurred in March 2007, details of which had not been revealed until Makovsky’s report this week.