Yet another version of what the Israel air attack over Syria on Sept. 6 was all about made the rounds this week of a select group of military, intelligence and political figures visiting Washington from the Middle East. This version was relayed to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the American capital. It put a fresh slant on the puzzling episode compared with the various accounts postulated in US media in the absence of authoritative information from official sources.
According to this version, the Israeli attack was a major operation in size and did not entail an air strike.
A large number of special forces’ troops were dropped by helicopter over the Syrian-North Korean site near the Syrian Desert village of Al-Tibna, 800 meters east of the Euphrates.
After disposing of the Syrian guards in a brief shootout, the Israeli attackers corralled the personnel inside the compound of an unfinished nuclear reactor, most of them Syrian military men and a small group of North Korean nuclear and missile technicians, in a side room and kept them under heavy guard.
The invaders now had several hours at their disposal for their main mission.
It began with the arrival of large Israeli Yasur transport helicopters which disgorged teams of intelligence investigators and technicians. While the first team interrogated the Syrian and North Korean captives, the technical teams disassembled the North Korean nuclear apparatus. All its components were loaded, together with the missiles and matching warheads stored at the compound, onto the helicopter transports which lost no time in taking off in an easterly direction.
Leaked to lobby Bush into getting rid of Assad
The Washington visitors who talked to DEBKA-Net-Weekly said they did not know from which direction the aircraft entered Syrian airspace or where they refueled for the return flight – possibly at US facilities in Iraq? Neither were they told what happened to the Syrian and North Korean personnel: Were they set free after the episode, killed or taken captive to Israel?
All they know for sure is that the equipment for Syria’s North Korean nuclear reactor was snatched – lock, stock and barrel – and flown to Israel.
The same Middle East visitors also reported that an air umbrella spread out over the eastern Mediterranean from Cyprus up to the Syrian and Iraqi borders shielded the Israeli ground and air forces for the duration of their operation. Since the Israeli Air Force could not have stretched to an area of this size, they assumed that the US Air Force was responsible.
As soon as the reactor components were removed, Israeli forces blew up the structures housing them – surface and underground – and were themselves lifted out by the first fleet of helicopters, which brought them to their Syrian Desert destination and waited to fly them out.
Bush administration officials – presumably from the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the CIA – had a reason for spilling this highly sensitive information to those visitors. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources, they were looking for help in swaying President George W. Bush to change his attitude towards Syrian President Bashar Assad, by the following argument.
With irrefutable proof in hand, procured by Israeli commandos and verified by US intelligence, of Assad’s nefarious activities, the White House cannot avoid the conclusion that the Syrian ruler must go. What is the administration waiting for?
Why won’t the US dispose of Assad?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources reported the message made its mark.
Some of the Middle East visitors were willing to ask quite simply: If Israeli soldiers could purloin a complete nuclear reactor from Syria in one night, the Americans should not find it too hard to cut down the Assad regime. They insisted that until the Syrian president was removed, there would be no end to the Iraqi and Palestinian wars, and Lebanon would continue to be plagued by political assassination and instability.
Furthermore, the advocates of Assad’s removal maintained that he is not only regarded as a pariah in the West and cold-shouldered by his Arab peers, but many people in his own country are ready to see the back of him. Syrian underground dissidents are only waiting for a green light from Washington to go into action.
There would never be a better opportunity.
But some of those anti-Assad lobbyists suspect Israel may be behind the Bush administration’s reluctance to dispose of Assad, lest he be replaced by an Iranian or Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Damascus. The Syrian president is therefore regarded as the lesser evil, a huge miscalculation, in their view.
A reminder from the past
Our Middle East military watchers find striking similarities between Israel’s Syrian operation, as described in this article, and an IDF action 38 years ago, when a commando-helicopter transport force carried off a complete P-12 Soviet-made Egyptian radar station shortly after its installation at Ras-Arab, near the confluence of the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea.
It took the paratroops a day to dismantle the seven-ton radar station and pack its components for removal.
On Dec. 27, 1969, one of two Ch-53 helicopters carried the communications caravan and radar antenna and the other the radar itself across the Red Sea to Israel. The secrets yielded up by the system afforded the Israeli Air Force new countermeasures against Egyptian air defenses. The novel radar installation was later handed over to the US at a time when the Cold War with the USSR was at its peak.