A story of global espionage, government intrigue, and the destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor, built with North Korea’s help, paid for by the Iranians.
Special Forces soldiers hid in sandy hills over looking a building near the Euphrates River. The building nears completion. One soldier holds a laser designation system on the building, sharing information over secure radios. Soil samples collected by another Spec Ops team confirmed months ago the building contains nuclear material. The kind you make bombs with. Pictures of the building’s interior were lifted right off a computer in Vienna, the director for atomic energy programs foolishly leaving the laptop in his home. North Korean officials shepherd building construction, funded by the terrorist regime in Tehran Iran. A defector claimed this building and another similar to it near Natanz Iran are part of a connected nuclear program. Terrorists with nukes is unthinkable. Several countries view these buildings as potential threats. One country still stings from intelligence failures after invading another Middle East country, finding no nuclear material.
Fighter pilots selected by the Chief of Staff for the mission arrived at their squadron ready rooms. The mission they have trained the last several months will change their lives forever tonight. Walking into a classified room, all are given non-disclosure agreements with specific instruction from the Prime Minister. Once in the classified briefing room, the pilots receive target information. And a letter, from the Air Force Chief of Staff.
“The mission is to destroy the target and to disengage with no fallen aircraft, and to do so through as much “low signature” as possible.”
“The action is top secret before and after its implementation, until a clear decision directs otherwise.”
One pilot mutters the common pilot phrase for high-visibility, high-risk missions:
Take off is in two hours. Time on Target is 1235 a.m. Four F-16 and four F-15 fighter bombers, carrying GPS and laser-guided weapons, follow specially equipped Gulfstream executive jets. Fighters are heavy with gas for the long-range trip across enemy territory.
The target received a nickname during planning: “The Rubik’s Cube,” the building looking much like the famous toy. Two planners shortened the name to “The Cube.” Bombs fell on time and on target. After destroying the building, the Mission Commander radioed his command post the code word for success: “Arizona.” All planes departed Syrian airspace untargeted by enemy air defenses.
This is real life, not a Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn novel.
A New Yorker Magazine article broke the story of an airstrike into Syria. Israel’s government on Wednesday 21 March confirmed on the night of 6 September 2007, an Israeli Air Force strike package of four F-16I Sufas and four F-15I Ra’ams gathered over the Mediterranean Ocean and flew low-level across Syria to the Al Kibar nuclear reactor site on the Euphrates River north of Deir ez Zor Syria.
The Israeli Air Force released an eight page summary and portions of the targeting pod video from strike aircraft. Video shows the airplanes approaching Al Kibar nuclear facility and dropping GPS-guided penetrating bombs on The Cube, modeled after Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Power Plant near Yongbyon North Korea. Additional laser-guided bombs finished the job. The Gulfstream G550 electronic intelligence jet was packed with electronic equipment, capable of highjacking the Syrian air defense system… from the air. Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting or NCCT and Senior Suter systems caused the Syrian air defenses to shut down during the entire airstrike. These same tools used by the US located and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s dense air defense system, nicknamed the super missile engagement zone or Super MEZ, defending Baghdad.
Here are my thoughts on this revelation.
In the Diplomatic area,
Israel followed an established national security strategy enunciated by Prime Minister Menachem Begin after the airstrike on Saddam’s reactor at Osirik south of Baghdad. The Begin Doctrine states “On no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel. We shall defend the citizens of Israel in good time and with all the means at our disposal.”
President Trump faces a similar situation. Rogue states continue developing weapons of mass destruction. The President outlined his doctrine on page 8 of the 2018 National Security Strategy. Kim Jong Un continues his nuclear program and missile tests near our Pacific bases. President Trump ordered his Secretary of Defense James Mattis to implement flexible deterrent options with our South Korean and Japanese partners after North Korea launched a series of ballistic missiles. In a very historic move, Kim Jong Un now wants to meet with President Trump on this and other issues soon
The Information arena has a lot to discuss.
The US learned the hard way about attacking rogue states with weapons of mass destruction. I personally feel Saddam had them and moved them to the Bekka Valley as his Air Force Vice Commander Lieutenant General Georges Sada has said so in his book Saddam’s Secrets.
The Olmert Government wanted concrete proof. And they got it. Israeli intelligence agents obtained pictures of the reactor right off the computer of Syria’s Director of Atomic Energy Commission Ibrahim Othman. Leaving the computer in his Vienna home, Israeli agents downloaded photos and blueprints of the facility. One photo showed North Korean nuclear official Chon Chibu in a track suit standing with Othman on the Deir ez Zor site.
Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister Ali-Reza Asgari disappeared in Turkey in early 2007. He proved to be a “goldmine” of information for western intelligence agents. He confirmed Iran was working on a nuclear program and financing construction of a reactor in Syria. In August 2007 Israeli Sayeret Maktal commandos returned from the reactor site with soil samples, confirming nuclear material was at the Al Kibar site.
Armed with solid intelligence information, the Olmert government planned and executed the airstrike.
In the Military area,
Soft kill non-kinetic and hard kill kinetic attack worked magnificently.
Israel obtained some of the best US top secret programs for deceiving, highjacking, and destroying enemy air defense networks. Two Israeli Air Force Gulfstream G550 executive jets packed with electronic equipment assured the non-stealthy eight plane strike package passed through Syria unscathed. Two US Air Force Big Safari programs called Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) and Senior Suter disrupted the entire defense network while the strike package crossed Syria.
Four IAF F-16I Sufas from two units, the 119th Bats Squadron and the 253rd Negev Squadron, joined with four F-15Is from the 69th Hammers Squadron over the Mediterranean Ocean and headed east. Aircraft were armed with the best GPS guided penetrating weapons, the GBU-31(V)3 2000 pound bombs. Each aircraft also carried air-to-air weapons incase the Syrian Air Force launched fighters to intercept them. Flying low level across Syria, the strike package arrived between 1230 and 1240 a.m. After releasing 17 tons of explosives on the facility, the strike package commander radioed the IAF Command Center in Tel Aviv the success codeword “Arizona,” which you can hear at the end of the video above. All aircraft departed Syrian airspace for home untouched.
If the US strikes North Korea’s nuclear plant, the B-2 Stealth bomber may do it. In January 2017, two B-2 bombers, callsign CLIP 11 and CLIP 12 left Whiteman AFB Missouri for Sirte Libya. Their targets were two ISIS training camps. After fifteen refueling and a 30 hour mission, both B-2s landed after a successful mission 30 hours after they took off.
Here’s the scary thought behind all this. If the Israelis had not destroyed the Al Kibar nuclear reactor, it would have fallen into ISIS hands. Think about that for a moment. The Islamic Extremist group ISIS controlled the Deir ez Zor area where the Al Kibar reactor was located for over three years. They would have found people to extract the nuclear material, they don’t care what happens to them, and probably made dirty bombs with it. This is also the reason Iran cannot possess nuclear material or weapons. Nor can North Korea. Weapons of mass destruction in the wrong hands is high risk and costs billions to neutralize.
Not very comforting is it?
Operation Orchard is an example of how diplomatic, informational and military elements of power can be used to neutralize a rogue nation’s potentially dangerous nuclear program. The Israeli government used all three elements before sending a strike package to Syria. I hope the Trump Administration is studying how the Israelis handled this situation, exploring diplomatic avenues, gathering quality information, and striking hard when the only option left.
About the author, Mark Hasara
Author of Tanker Pilot: Lessons from the Cockpit, Mark Hasara is a retired US Air Force pilot with 24 year in the KC-135 airborne tanker. He is a speaker and aviation industry consultant in campaign planning and cockpit architecture. Follow his weekly newsletter “On the Nations DIME”.