Israel put an end to Syria’s alleged nuclear ambitions in 2006 when they bombed the country’s secret site near the Iraqi border.
Dubbed “Operation Orchard” or “Operation Outside the Box”, Israeli F-15 and F-16 warplanes bombed an alleged nuclear site some 30 kilometers outside of Deir Ezzor city in Syria’s eastern region.
While Israel kept this attack quiet for over a decade, they finally broke their silence in March 2017 when they claimed responsibility for the bombing.
According to the Haaretz publication, a former high-ranking Iranian security advisor named General Ali Reza Askari first confirmed the bombing in 2007 after he defected to the United States in 2007.
“Askari provided highly valuable information. Among other things, he reported details about the Syrian nuclear program that had been financed by Iran and built by the North Koreans. They were constructing a graphite-moderated reactor named Al Kibar that was supposed to produce weapons-grade plutonium,” tbe War is Boring publication claimed.
While the U.S. did not play a part in the Israeli bombing of the alleged nuclear site, they did monitor the attack using their electronic surveillance equipment.
According to War is Boring, the Israeli special forces commando from the IDF’s most elite unit, Sayeret Matkal, managed to infiltrate and collect intelligence at the nuclear construction site.
“On Sept. 5, after weeks of clandestine political debates in Israel’s security cabinet, the IDF got the green light for Operation Orchard. In the same night, 10 F-15 and F-16 fighter jets took off at Israel’s Ramat David air base. First, they flew northwards along the Mediterranean coast, and then suddenly, they turned east along the Syrian-Turkish border. Blinding Syrian air-defense systems with electronic countermeasures and destroying a radar station, they entered into Syria’s air space,” the publication, the publication claimed, adding that “around 12:45 in the morning, the pilots reported the successful execution of the operation. The Syrian nuclear reactor was destroyed before it could go online. The Israeli war planes returned home unharmed.”
Syria officially denied the site was a nuclear facility, despite a great deal of speculation regarding the Israeli attack.
“Is it logical? A nuclear site did not have protection with surface to air defences? A nuclear site within the footprint of satellites in the middle of Syria in an open area in the desert?” Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told Qatar’s al-Watan newspaper in an interview shortly after the Israeli attack.
“The truth is that the raid was at a military site under construction,” Assad said in the interview. “We are against mass destruction weapons for Israel, Iran or others.”
“Where would we use it? On Israel it would kill the Palestinians. I do not see this as logical,” the Syrian President said, adding “why did they raid it, we do not know what data they had, but they know and they see through satellites; they have raided an incomplete site that did not have any personnel or anything. It was empty.”
The Syrian government has maintained that this facility was never used for nuclear research or the development of these weapons, despite Israel’s claims.
As of today, the site is currently under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who managed to capture the area during an offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh).
While the site is out of Syrian government control in eastern Syria, it still remains somewhat intact.
As seen in Israel’s recent attacks on Damascus and Homs, the Syrian government has quite a few sites that are masked as construction sites, which could have indeed been military research buildings.
Furthermore, Israel’s attack on the Osirak Nuclear Reactor near Baghdad in 1981 showed their meticulous research and willingness to prevent their enemies from attaining nuclear capabilities.
Since Deir Ezzor is quite far from their border, as was the Osirak Nuclear Reactor, Israel would be taking a major risk to hit a construction site without some kind of proof that it is being used to produce internationally prohibited weapons.
What exactly was being developed at this site in eastern Deir Ezzor is up for debate; however, it appears Israel had known about it for quite some time before actually attacking it.