The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) published details today of the 2007 airstrike it carried out in Syria that destroyed a nuclear reactor. Israel was widely believed to have been responsible for the attack, but never admitted it.
The secret operation, called “Outside the Box,” involved eight fighter jets flying at low altitude during the night of 5 September 2007 toward the plutonium nuclear reactor in the Deir el-Zour region of eastern Syria, the military said. Israeli intelligence believed that the reactor was built by North Korea, copying the model of an outdated British reactor built in the 1950s, and that the site was due to become operational by December 2007.
The mission was monitored by then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Israeli Air Force Commander Eliezer Shkedi, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Director of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin and other senior IDF officials. The pilots had begun to train for the mission six months before the strike, although most of them were unaware of the importance or nature of the mission.
In March 2007, according to an article in The New Yorker, Israel was able to confirm such activity when Mossad agents broke into the safe house of a senior Syrian official in Vienna and uncovered the location and pictures of the reactor on his computer.
Israeli officials kept quiet about the attack out of concern that Syria would retaliate. “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 military said. At the time Syria accused Israel of invading its airspace, but gave no further details about the target of the attack.
“The operation and its success made clear that Israel will never allow nuclear weaponry to be in the hands of those who threaten its existence – Syria then, and Iran today,” Minister of Intelligence and Transportation Israel Katz said on Twitter this morning.
“The message from the 2007 attack on the reactor is that Israel will not tolerate construction that can pose an existential threat,” military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said in a statement this morning. “This was the message in 1981, this is the message in 2007 and this is the future message to our enemies.”