39 years ago 8 Israeli Air Force F-16s escorted by half a dozen F15s destroyed Iraq’s nascent nuclear reactor at Osirak on the outskirts of Baghdad. The surprise strike carried out on 7 June 1981 was code-named Operation Opera also known as Operation Babylon.
Israel repeated the act in 2007. This time on Sept 6, 2007 Israeli F-15s targeted and destroyed a secret Syrian nuclear installation in the Dir A-Zur area in an Operation nicknamed “Orchard”. It was a a precision air strike launched at night.
Israel has never publicly admitted that some of its aircraft destroyed the facility, but some details about the mission have been either disclosed or leaked throughout the years.
Some of them are well described in the book The Sword of David – The Israeli Air Force at War, written by Donald McCarthy.
An Iranian general who disappeared in February 2007, may have been the source of the intelligence required by the Syrian nuclear site attack, says a report in the Aviationist.
After gathering the required details, the Israelis planned a secret mission to destroy the installation in eastern Syria — it was launched at night.
McCarthy points out the fact that Syria as well as other Arab countries were equipped with advanced Russian air defense systems claimed to be immune to electronic jamming. At the time of Operation Orchard, Syria operated twenty nine of these advanced air defense systems, so it remains unclear how the Israeli aircraft flew undetected into the night sky out over the Mediterranean Sea, across the Euphrates River and along their route to the nuclear facility.
As pointed out by McCarthy, the strike force included one or more Gulfstream G550 aircraft, equipped with the IAI Elta EL/W-2085 radar system.
After the attack, the initial reports stated that the IAF aircraft had almost entirely destroyed the nuclear site, claims that were also confirmed by the comparison of pre and post-attack satellite imagery.
Operation Orchard showed the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, capabilities that were most probably used to carry out an air strike on a weapons convoy and military complex near Damascus, at the beginning of 2013. As done in 2007, on the night between Jan. 29 and 30, 2013, Israeli bombers entered and egressed the Syrian airspace almost completely undetected by the Syrian air defenses: a sign that Syrian radars can do nothing against Israel’s Electronic Warfare systems, most probably further improved to embed the capability to inject malware from F-16s into enemy networks.
With Iraq’s and Syria’s nuke installations struck and destroyed secretively by IDF, who else in the wider region is a threat to Israel’s security?
The 117th Squadron which took part in the 1981 strike is being shuttered to free up resources for new fifth-generation planes, namely the F-35 stealth fighter jet, which Israel purchased from the United States.
The report says the IDF began rolling out its five-year Momentum Plan this year — it is meant to make the Israeli military better equipped to operate in the types of operations that it is expected to face in the coming years.
“The guiding principle of the plan is to take full advantage of the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies — air power, intelligence and technology”. IDF wants to “ensure the military maintains a constant and significant edge over its foes, notably Iran and Hezbollah”.
When asked to comment on the development including Israel’s threat perception against nukes in the region, a senior Pakistani defense official says, “Israeli threat of military action against all such facilities, deemed detrimental to Israeli security will remain real”.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to comment officially.
Pakistan does not recognize Israel — it backs the Palestinians rights first being recognized and settled. Back in September 2005, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri shook hands with Israeli FM Silvan Shalom in Istanbul, Turkey — – over five decades after the creation of the two states. It remains the only publicly acknowledged talks between the two states.
While Israel looks eastward to expand its public diplomacy canvas, Pakistan looks to do the same westward.