The Syrian Arab Republic and the State of Israel have a long bloody history relationship Since the founding of the Jewish state, neighboring Arab countries have tried to destroy it by force. weapons. For a long time, Syria has been the most serious adversary of Israel in terms of its military potential. In a series of armed conflicts, countries on both sides lost many thousands of people killed and incurred significant material costs. So far, since 1948, after the founding of the Jewish state, Syria and Israel are formally at war.
As one of Israelis wrote in the comments on the “Military Review”: “With regard to the Air Force and Air Defense, the Syrians are our teachers (like the Swedes for the army of Peter the Great). They worked out the entire tactics of the IDF strikes on the ground. The first UAVs were tested on them. And the Syrian Air Force gave us valuable practical experience in the use of 4 generation fighters. Guiding fighters with the help of radars of other fighters, shooting UR-BB explosions from medium distances. ”
Yes, and Israeli high-ranking military in informal conversations have repeatedly admitted that the Syrian armed forces were for them the most serious opponent. Unlike, say, the Egyptians, the Syrian soldiers, armed with the same Soviet equipment, on the battlefield in the offensive achieved great success, and in the defense often showed resistance to most Arabs.
For a long time, Syria was the main ally of the Soviet Union in the Middle East and received modern Soviet weapons. As a rule, arms deliveries went from the USSR on credit, and often free of charge. In 90, this source of free “weapon freebies” dried up, and Syria’s ability to purchase weapons on the world market was very scarce. Left without Soviet assistance, the Syrian armed forces began to gradually degrade, especially in the most high-tech areas - in the Air Force and Air Defense (more details here: The current state of the Syrian Arab Republic air defense system). Although we must pay tribute to the Syrian leadership: with sufficiently meager financial capabilities, before the civil war began in the country, it made serious efforts to maintain anti-aircraft systems and fighters produced in 70-80-s, and also allocated money for the purchase of modern air defense systems. .
The Israeli Air Force, by contrast, developed and improved dynamically, becoming the most powerful in the Middle East region in the 21st century. The capabilities of Israel and Syria to develop the armed forces were incomparable, and this undoubtedly affected the activity of the Syrian army in the border areas and in the more restrained policy of the leadership of Syria. In the last years of the presidency of President Hafez Asad, who spent his entire adult life dreaming of the physical destruction of Israel, but at the same time being a far-sighted politician and realist, there was a tendency towards normalization of relations between countries. At the same time, the Syrians were preparing an asymmetric response to the case of an Israeli attack, and the chemical arsenal program was in full swing. For the tactical and operational-tactical missile systems available in the Syrian army: Luna, Elbrus and Tochka, combat units equipped with poisonous substances were created. Using them on the battlefield, of course, would not have helped to win the war, but as a deterrent in the event of strikes against Israeli cities, the role of chemical warheads was great. The distance from the Syrian-Israeli border to Tel Aviv is approximately 130 km, that is, about half of the territory of Israel is located in the zone of defeat of OTR "Tochka". However, the use of weapons of mass destruction against the state possessing nuclear weapons such as Israel is more likely to mean the beginning of a regional nuclear apocalypse, and the Syrian leadership, realizing this, also showed certain nuclear ambitions.
Apparently, work in this direction was sanctioned when the late President Hafez al-Assad was, but the facts of Syrian nuclear research were already widely received under the current president, Bashar Assad. At the start of 2000, Israeli intelligence recorded a series of meetings between high-ranking Syrian and North Korean representatives who could talk about the provision of North Korean nuclear technology and fissile materials. The DPRK has never been a direct opponent of Israel, but due to the permanent currency deficit, North Korea actively sold nuclear secrets and rocket technology to anyone who wanted it. In addition, between Syria and Iran, which also actively sought to possess nuclear weapons, there were close friendly relations. The unifying ideological factor for the leadership of the SAR and the IRI is hatred of Israel, given this Iran, having advanced in nuclear research far beyond Syria, could easily share radioactive materials, technologies and equipment.
Naturally, Israel reacted very keenly to the desire of neighboring unfriendly countries to acquire nuclear weapons. It is fair to say that the expansion of the “nuclear club” is, of course, a destabilizing factor in the international arena, and no one is interested in this, including Russia. On this issue, despite a number of differences on other topics, the interests of Israel and Russia coincide. The question is only in the methods with which Israel is inclined to act, and these methods are often very “sharp”, far beyond the framework of international law. Neither in the past nor now, the Israeli special services, acting in the territory of other states, did not bother with the observance of national criminal law, putting their own interests above all else. So, in December, 2006 in London, Israeli agents entered a hotel room where a high-ranking Syrian official stayed, and during his absence, they installed spyware and technical devices on his laptop, which later gained valuable information about the Syrian nuclear program. It became known about Iran’s intention to build a uranium enrichment facility in Syrian territory, in case similar Iranian facilities cannot function.
Naturally, this could not but alarm the Israeli leadership and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert authorized the preparation of an operation to counter the Syrian-Iranian nuclear project. The Israeli reconnaissance satellite Ofek-7 and, apparently, the Israeli agents in Syria were used to gather information. As subsequent events showed, the Israelis were very well informed about the course of nuclear research and the locations of the alleged Syrian nuclear facilities. The situation for Syria became more complicated after Ali Reza Asgari, General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who fled Iran to the United States, who had access to his country's nuclear secrets, provided the Americans with documents on the development of a secret Syrian nuclear program. According to the testimony of Ali Reza Asgari, technical support was provided by North Korean scientists, and Iran provided money for the implementation of the program (about a billion dollars). It also became known about the facility located at a military base in the vicinity of the city of Marj al-Sultan, where it was planned to enrich uranium from an Iranian concentrate. Ready for loading, the Syrians allegedly planned to transport to the reactor in Al-Kibar (Deir el-Zor).
Satellite image of the proposed nuclear facility in Deir el-Zor
Syria responded with a categorical refusal to the IAEA’s request for the admission of experts to the specified facilities. At the beginning of 2007, the Israelis turned to George Bush to strike the United States with long-range cruise missiles at Syrian nuclear facilities, but the Americans this time decided to refrain from a missile attack. Soon, a North Korean ship carrying a load of uranium rods for the Syrian nuclear reactor was seen landing at the Syrian port of Tartus. The arrival of the North Korean ship with uranium became the starting point, after the passage of which the conduct of the force operation entered a phase of practical implementation.
This was not the first such operation; in 1981, the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor was destroyed as a result of a raid by Israeli military aircraft. All these actions fit into the framework of the Israeli doctrine, according to which the Arab countries are opposed to Israel, and under no circumstances should they ever become possessors of nuclear weapons.
The Israeli Air Force operation, which later became known as the "Orchard" (Hebrew. מבצע בוסתן ,, Eng. Operation Orchard), took place on September 6 on the 2007. An airstrike was assigned before the reactor began its work, since the destruction of an operating nuclear facility located on the banks of the Euphrates could lead to a strong radioactive contamination of its waters.
Shortly after midnight, residents of the Syrian provincial town of Deir el-Zor, whose name translates as "Monastery in the Forest", heard a series of explosions and saw a bright flash in the desert beyond Euphrates. All this was the final act of the raid by the Israeli Air Force to destroy the alleged Syrian nuclear facility. According to information leaked to the media, the F-15I 69 squadron fighter-bombers were involved in the air attack.
Israeli double F-15I, also known as Thunder (English "Thunder"), are very advanced both in the ability to conduct air combat, and in terms of striking ground targets with combat vehicles. In many characteristics, they even surpass the American F-15. On the part of the route, the F-15I was accompanied by the F-16I Sufa, which is a two-seater, greatly improved version of the F-16D Block 50 / 52 fighter.
Israeli F-16I and F-15I
An electronic warfare aircraft also participated in the raid, referred to in a number of sources as ELINT, perhaps it was the DRLO and EW CAEW aircraft, created on the basis of the G550 Gulfstream Aerospace administrative G6. On the night of September 2007, 25, in Israel itself, in Syria and in the south-west of Turkey, there were failures in the operation of telecommunication systems. This was a consequence of the most powerful radio-electronic interference generated with the aim of blinding the Syrian air defense system. It was noted that there was no such level of electronic countermeasures from Israel for about 1982 years after the events of XNUMX in the Beck Valley. Apparently, the EW equipment was also carried by combat aircraft directly involved in the strike.
DRLO and EW CAEW aircraft
The Israeli-Syrian contact line and the border with Lebanon from Syria in 2007 were very tightly covered by the air defense system, and in this area the level of combat readiness of the Syrian air defense systems has traditionally been maintained at a high level. In order to deceive Syria’s air defense and minimize the risk of defeat of combat aircraft, the invasion of Syrian airspace came from Turkey, from where attacks were not expected. The concentration of Syrian air defense missile systems along the Turkish border at that time was low, and most of the radar stations didn’t function, as a result, the Israelis took advantage of. Seven F-15I penetrated into Turkey from the south-west. Being over Turkish territory, Israeli fighter-bombers dropped their suspension tanks after producing fuel from them.
The route of Israeli warplanes during the operation "Orchard" and the zone of destruction of the Syrian air defense systems as of 2007 year.
Shortly before the operation began, an Israeli special forces detachment in the form of a Syrian army was landed from a helicopter in the target area. Special Forces officers were supposed to highlight the target with a laser target designator; most likely it was the special forces of the Shaldag Air Force, whose fighters undergo special training for such missions. Prior to that, Israeli intelligence personnel had allegedly landed in the area to collect soil samples to detect radioactive substances. After the successful destruction of the Syrian facility, all Israeli soldiers, who were illegally stationed in the territory of the SAR, were safely evacuated by helicopter. According to media reports, Israeli warplanes hit with adjustable 500 ground bombs and AGM-65 Maverick missiles.
The return journey of the F-15I after they launched a rocket-bomb strike was not known for certain. But it can be assumed that the aircraft, hiding behind active interference, retreated in a westerly direction, cutting off the rest of the way over Syria and Turkey towards the Mediterranean Sea. This route made it possible to bypass most of the positions of the Syrian air defense system in the north-west of the country. Considering the distance traveled and the time spent in the air, it seems likely that on return, the Israeli F-15I would be refueled in the air over the Mediterranean Sea.
Later it became known that the Israeli pilots were insured by American warships with helicopters on board in case of the need for emergency rescue near the territorial waters of Syria. From this it follows that the Americans were aware of what is happening. If we put aside the political background and the Israeli violation of the norms of international law that have taken place, then we can note the highest level of professionalism of the Israeli military during this operation.
Oddly enough, the Israeli airstrike on the Syrian site did not cause much resonance. The first information about the Israeli air raid appeared on CNN. The next day, Turkish media reported the discovery of Israeli aviation outboard fuel tanks in Hatay and Gaziantep areas, and the Turkish Foreign Minister made an official protest to the Israeli ambassador. However, Israeli and American officials declined to comment. Later, President George W. Bush wrote in his memoirs that in a telephone conversation with Olmert, he suggested that this operation be kept secret for a while, and then made public in order to put pressure on the Syrian government. But Olmert asked for complete secrecy, wanting to avoid publicity, fearing that this could trigger a new round of escalation between Syria and Israel, and provoke a Syrian retaliatory strike.
The first public recognition by a high-ranking Israeli representative was 19 September, when opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu stated that he supported the operation and congratulated Prime Minister Olmert on its successful completion. Prior to this, September 17, Prime Minister Olmert announced that he was ready to make peace with Syria: “without preconditions and without ultimatums”. On October 28, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced at a meeting of the Israeli government that he apologized to Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a possible Israeli violation of Turkish airspace.
Syrian representatives made a statement in which it was said that the air defense forces fired at Israeli planes that had dropped bombs in the desert. In an appeal to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, it was stated that "the violation of the airspace of the Syrian Arab Republic" and said: "This is not the first time that Israel violated the airspace of Syria."
Pictures of the alleged Syrian nuclear facility before and after the bombing
After giving publicity to the facts of Syria’s cooperation in the nuclear field with Iran and the DPRK, the Syrian leadership was subjected to intense pressure from the world community to allow international inspectors to enter its territory. In June 2008, an IAEA expert team visited a bombed site. The Syrians did everything they could to get rid of the evidence. First of all, they removed all the wreckage of the blasted building and filled the entire site with concrete. The inspectors were told that in this place before the Israeli air strike there was a conventional weapons factory, and not a nuclear reactor, which they would be obliged to report to the IAEA. The Syrians also insisted that foreigners had not previously participated in the construction of the destroyed object. In the soil samples taken during the inspection, the presence of uranium was detected. But the Syrians replied to all the charges that the uranium was in Israeli aviation munitions used in the bombardment. At the time of the arrival of inspectors on the site of the destroyed building a new one was built.
Satellite image of Google earth: a newly erected building at the site of an airstrike destroyed as of 2013 year.
As seen in the satellite image, the new building was damaged during the fighting between government forces in Syria and the rebels. As of the beginning of 2015, this area was controlled by militants of the Islamic State group. If the radioactive materials of a working reactor fell into the hands of the Islamists, the consequences could be very grave. To create a "dirty bomb" does not require the possession of special knowledge and high technology.
Until now, there is no clarity as to what the destroyed Syrian object in the desert was; everything is not clear with the details of the operation. Some sources indicate that some time after the bombing the area was again visited by Israeli special forces in order to collect soil samples. But whether this is really, is unknown, Israeli officials still remain silent.
After analyzing the known facts, I would venture to suggest that the destroyed object was not intended for the direct production of nuclear weapons. Production volumes of plutonium in a reactor of this size would be minimal, and in addition, Syria lacked the necessary infrastructure to extract it from spent fuel. Perhaps it was a question of a purely research reactor, at which it was planned to work out the methodology and technology. Apparently, the reactor, if it really was indeed a reactor, had not yet been put into operation, otherwise radioactive contamination of the area would have been impossible to hide.
After 6 September 2007, the Syrian leadership seriously bothered to strengthen its air defense system. A contract was signed with Russia for the supply of the MiG-29, Buk-M2E and C-XNUMPPMU-300, ZRPK Pantsir-C2 fighters and the modernization of part of the existing low-altitude C-1X125A air defense systems to C-1-X 125M. In the PRC, modern radar lighting systems were purchased. Subsequently, due to a reason not voiced by the Russian leadership, the contract for C-2PMU-2 was canceled, although the Russian industry had already begun to fulfill it. At the moment, the Syrian air defense system has a pronounced focal character and the inviolability of the air borders of this country is largely ensured by the presence of the Russian VKS group.
Some experts are inclined to believe that one of the objectives of Operation Orchard was to prevent Iran and to demonstrate Israel’s determination to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by hostile neighbors.
Tehran made several conclusions from what happened. After the Israeli raid on Syria, an attempt was made to radically strengthen its own air defense system by purchasing modern systems in Russia. But under pressure from the United States and Israel, the Russian leadership then annulled the C-300P contract. A positive decision on this issue was made relatively recently, and the first elements of the Russian anti-aircraft missile system were delivered only in the 2016 year. In addition, Iran began to hide uranium enrichment centrifuges under construction in deep underground tunnels, where they became unavailable for guaranteed destruction even with the heaviest anti-bunker bombs.
At the end of the publication, in order to avoid a certain part of visitors to the site accusations of endorsing Israeli actions towards their neighbors, I want to make a reservation right away - I do not in any way support the killing of Arabs by Israeli military and police and regular air and artillery attacks on Syria and Lebanon. However, I also have a very negative attitude towards the “knife intifada”, terrorist attacks and rocket attacks on the territory of Israel. But whether someone likes it or not, Israelis have a lot to learn, in particular, true patriotism, how to defend their homeland in deeds, not in words, defend the country's national interests and mercilessly and consistently destroy terrorists regardless of short-term political conjuncture.
I also express my gratitude for the prompted topic and assistance in writing this article to Oleg Sokolov, a citizen of the state of Israel, who is known on the website as a “professor” - a very controversial person who is not always easy to communicate, but certainly has a broad outlook and a lively mind.