Operation Orchard

Cyrus Reza
June 12, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Israeli F-15I Ra'am. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On September 6, 2007, the Israeli Air Force conducted a secret airstrike on an alleged nuclear facility in southeastern Syria. [1] Operation Orchard destroyed the site and killed ten North Korean workers, but for the next seven months, the Israeli and United States governments, the latter having provided critical information to the Israelis, established an international news blackout. [1] Fig. 1 shows an Israeli F-15I Ra'am, ten of which were used in the strike.


Several months before the strike, Israeli Mossad operatives had infiltrated the Vienna home of the leader of the Syrian regime's Atomic Energy Commission. There, they discovered images of the site, located near al-Kibar in Deir ez-Zor Province, that revealed its alleged nuclear significance. According to the RAND Corporation's 2015 analysis, Ehud Olmert, then-Prime Minister of Israel, judged that Israel could not wait for the reactor to begin enrichment, for a strike at that point might result in the wide dispersal of radiation. [2] Indeed, there had been concerns that Syria had attempted to access missiles from the Russians, which had a range between 280 and 300 miles, enough to hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. [3]


The Israeli and American governments refused to provide information for months following the strike; the Syrian regime was similarly circumspect. According to Robert Gates, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense, retaining this plausible deniability that the attack had even taken place mitigated the risk of conflict between Syria and Israel. [2] Present Bashar al-Assad of Syria confirmed that the Israeli Air Force had struck a military installation under construction, though he did not give any details as to the alleged nuclear nature of the facility. [1] In the years that followed, Syria would deny ever having pursued nuclear armaments, and neither Iran (Syria's most powerful ally) nor any Arab country commented on the attack's having taken place. Should one compare this international silence to the angry reaction that followed the 1981 Israeli strike on the Iraqi Osirak reactor, the inconsistency is quite surprising. [4] There was no outcry against Israel's having taken preemptive action nor any ruminating on adherence to the UN Charter; all countries involved sought to minimize the significance of the strike, and they succeeded in doing so.

© Cyrus Reza. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] L. S. Spector and A. Cohen, "Israel's Airstrike on Syria's Reactor: Implications for the Nonproliferation Regime," Arms Control Today 38, No. 6, 15 (2008).

[2] W. Bass, A Surprise Out of Zion? (RAND Corporation, 2015), p. 45.

[3] A. Cordesman, The Israeli Nuclear Reactor Strike and Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Background Analysis (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007), p. 12

[4] J. Lange, "Israeli Nuclear Ambiguity," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017.