Operation Orchard: Bombing of the Syrian Nuclear Reactor

Sayeret Matkal operators training at undisclosed location
Sayeret Matkal operators training at undisclosed location (Photo: IDF)

Operation Orchard was an Israeli secret operation to destroy a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. The operation unveiled during 2006 and 2007. The mission was successfully accomplished on September 6, 2007, when the Israeli Air Force carried out a secret airstrike on the site of a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. It did not formally acknowledge this till 2018.

The mission involved Mossad and its covert unit Kidon, Air Force, and secretive special operations unit Sayeret Matkal. The mission was also known as Operation Outside the Box (Hebrew: מבצע מחוץ לקופסה‎, Mivtza Michutz La’Kufsa).

Introduction

After the leadership of Bashar Al Assad in 2001, the relationship between Syria and North Korea drastically increased. Assad was on a frequent visit to North Korea. Aman, the Military Intelligence of Israel found it fishy and reported it to Mossad but unfortunately, they denied it. Later in 2004, The US intelligence, CIA reported multiple calls between DPRK and Syria which gave Mossad sleepless nights.

In the same year, A train carrying fossil fuel and petrochemical components crashed which resulted in the massive explosion and death of 12 Syrian Nuclear technicians. An MI6 agent says that Israel was behind this bombing of the train but no proofs were found for the same. When their body was being exported, Mossad saw something inconvincible! The Korean men were wearing Nuclear Shielded suits when they were exporting the dead bodies of Syrian technicians! This made Mossad think something is seriously wrong!

Mossad in Operation Orchard

The first phase of Operation Orchard began when Mossad intensified its operation in North Korea. They hired a female agent and successfully honey-trapped a Syrian scientist and in the meantime, the Mossad operatives managed to unlock his door and entered the room he stayed. They found his laptop which was completely unprotected! They transferred all the data from his laptop to hard-disk with no time and the honey trap was successful. This data was immediately sent to the then Mossad Head, Meir Dagan at Tel Aviv. Mossad was shocked to see the data related to the Nuclear program.

Mossad in Operation Orchard: Kidon - Israel Mossad's most secretive unit
Operation Orchard and KIDON’s involvement: KIDON is considered the most secretive unit within the Israeli Mossad (Photo: Illustration)

Dagan immediately ordered the Israeli space station to take the pictures of Al-Kibar. They were shocked to see an isolated building and with communication around it. Thus Mossad confirmed the existence of the active Nuclear program in Al-Kibar. Since Syria is one of the countries which vows to remove Israel from the world map, considering this a serious threat, Dagan informed this their then-PM Ehud Olmert.

Sayeret Matkal in Operation Orchard

After the discussion, they at any cost wanted to know, was the nuclear reactor fully built and under working condition/Operational? They badly wanted to know this and the first thing that came to their mind was Israel’s Elite black ops Commando unit, the Sayeret Matkal.

The second phase of Operation Orchard began when Mossad ordered the Sayeret Matkal to get the water and the soil sample outside the reactor to make sure whether the reactor was destroyable. The Sayeret Matkal commandos used three Sikorsky CH-53 chopper which is capable of flying at very low altitude and is certainly noiseless. The mission of getting water and soil samples outside the Syrian reactor was successful by Israeli commandos. This was sent to the Israeli nuclear testing center and was fortunately NOT fully operational.

Sayeret Matkal operators were involved in now-famous Operation Orchard
Sayeret Matkal operators were involved in now-famous Operation Orchard (Photo: IDF)

Now after getting to know that the Syrian Reactor is not fully operational, The Mossad was left with the only option, “Either Do or Die”. With no option remaining they have to destroy the Syrian Nuclear Reactor. For this operation, they used the famous and experienced fighter jets (same jets used to destroy Iraqi nuclear reactor during Saddam Hussein’s era) of the Israeli Air Force, The 69 “Hammers” Squadron.

Operation Orchard: The bombing

The Mossad hacked the Syrian Air defense system so that no Israeli fighter planes are captured. The seven Squadron jets then enters the Syrian airspace and with no time detects the Al-Kibar reactor and destroys it with 1.5 tons explosives and the signal sound “Arizona” reaches Tel Aviv which is the code word for Mission Accomplished in Israeli military language.

Now the only stuff that bothered Meir Dagan was, How did Syria manage to build the nuclear with utmost secrecy! After a lot of research, the Mossad found that the main man behind this success is Syrian General Mohammed Suleiman.

The assassination of General Suleiman

He was the main man behind the utmost secrecy of developing Nuclear weapons. The Mossad told their Prime Minister that Syria will be able to construct a fully operational Nuclear Reactor if this man is alive. So the final mission of Mossad was to assassinate the mastermind behind it, general Muhammad Suleiman.

Syrian Army commander, Gen. Muhammad Suleiman salutes during a ceremony in Jounieh, Lebanon, Oct. 6, 2007. He was killed on August 1, 2008, in Tartus. The assassination was considered as the part of Operation Orchard
Syrian Army commander, Gen. Muhammad Suleiman salutes during a ceremony in Jounieh, Lebanon, Oct. 6, 2007. He was killed on August 1, 2008, in Tartus. The assassination was considered as the part of Operation Orchard (Photo: AP/Hussein Malla)

It’s obvious that Mossad for the assassination of their enemies, use their most ferocious unit, the Kidon. Or some source claim it was Shayetet 13.

Kidon is one of the most ruthless assassination units in the world. They have no mercy for Israeli’s enemies. In 2008, Mossad gathered intelligence that Suleiman would be visiting his home in Tartous for a small get-together. The Mossad and the Kidon prepared for this. They sent the effective snipers of Kidon to Tartous. The snipers made a scuba diving and managed to get near the shore and waited for the right time. On August 1, 2008, around 1800 local time, the Snipers aimed their target and hit Suleiman twice, One on the chest and the other on the neck!

Conclusion

Operation Orchard was a quite successful operation that involved Israeli intelligence, special operations forces, and air force. And when you take into account those services, that was the end of the Syrian Nuclear Romance with North Korea. Altogether Mossad used the Army, IDF, and Kidon to finish off the threat to them in the most fascinating way.

Operation Orchard: Bombin of the Syrian Nuclear Reactor before and after the strike photo of Syrian reactor
Operation Orchard: A still frame is taken from video material released on March 21, 2018, shows a combination image of what the Israeli military describes is before and after an Israeli airstrike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site near Deir al-Zor on Sept 6, 2007. (Photo: Reuters)
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