U.S. operational fingerprints on Israeli air attack into Syria

The United States, Turkey, and Israel cooperated on the 6 September 2007 Israeli air attack into Syria. This claim is credible to anyone with knowledge of standard operating locations and procedures of U.S. military forces and assets in and over the Middle East. However, it is unclear whether the successful attack lessens the likelihood of a U.S.-Iran military conflict.

Initial Media Reports:
After the air attack into Syria, I was unable to find any Internet, newspaper, or TV stories that addressed the degree of U.S. military involvement. (See footnote sources below). Instead the stories provided tidbits of information about early intelligence revealing a Syria-North Korea connection, revealing the attack route followed by the Israelis, the target location, and the likelihood that the target contained some sort of nuclear material, hardware, or facilities.

Thus, the media reported on WHY and WHAT happened but little on WHO’s military forces indirectly or directly assisted the attack. Nor was there much coverage on the long-term national security implications of the brief skirmish.

Security Implications:
I respect the timely reporting of what occurred along with gathering post-attack quotes from government representatives in Syria, Israel, Turkey, and the U.S. But when military conflict erupts, failing to identify known and likely military participants blinds citizens from assessing the security implications to their county, their families, and themselves. To help clear away this blind spot, the following analysis is provided by Vigilant Eagle Reports, found at BooksByMitchell.com.

Mitchell’s consolidation of available pre-attack intelligence:
(footnotes shown as numbers at end of sentences)
The U.S. for years has been closely monitoring the nuclear activities of North Korea. Simultaneously, the U.S. and regional allies have placed economic pressure on the North Koreans to stop nuclear weapon material development. As the North Korean farming, energy, and industrial failures mount they decide to cooperate on closing down their processing facilities.

However, for money and the possibility of hiding weapons grade material and/or hiding complete nuclear warheads from the Americans the North Koreans decide to ship nuclear items to Syria.1 Sometime during the last year, the American’s became aware that the Syrians and North Koreans were cooperating on maturing a nuclear processing facility in Syria.2 Sometime along this timeframe the Israelis also learn that the North Koreans were trying to buy a nuclear bomb from the North Koreans.3

The possibility of the Syrians having control of weapons grade nuclear material and / or an operational bomb led both the Israelis and U.S. to conclude that there are four deadly scenarios that must not be allowed to occur:

#1 Syria passes to Muslim terrorists nuclear fuel for a dirty bomb
#2 Syria passes to Iran nuclear fuel to speed their development of an operational nuclear warhead
#3 Syria gains a warhead, mounting it on a missile capable of reaching Israel
#4 Iran gains a warhead, mounting it on a missile capable of reaching Europe, Israel, and major U.S. and United Kingdom military bases as far away as the Diego Garcia atoll in the Indian Ocean.

The above intelligence and threat scenarios trigger both the U.S. and Israel to share intelligence and use their spy satellites, use other U.S. aerial spy platforms (Predators and Global Hawks) supporting the occupation in Iraq, along with an Israeli ground cell, to monitor Syrian progress on a facility at Dayr as Zawr in Eastern Syria.

A standard operating procedure (SOP) would also kicked in at this point. That SOP is to create military plans to counter emerging or expected threat capabilities.

It is reasonable to postulate that U.S. air reconnaissance units operating for decades out of the U.S. Air Force base at Incirlik (east of Adana Turkey just north of the Turkey-Syrian border) would be tasked to apply their expertise to assist in route planning for either an independent Israeli air assault or a joint strike force.

So the first operational fingerprint of U.S. military involvement stems from their application of known and available in-theater intelligence gathering platforms to watch for developments at suspected Syrian sites and share information with the Israelis. The second fingerprint of U.S. involvement is that defensive military operations must have been planned by each country to include individual military action and joint actions. Such joint action leads to coordination and cooperation with Turkey who would feel threatened by a nuclear armed Syria or Iran.

However, the U.S. did not seize the ship carrying suspected nuclear items while it was enroute to Syria.5 Thus, the Americans did not know the items had slipped out of North Korea, were afloat, and headed for the Middle East.

Meanwhile, “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates were particularly concerned about the ramifications of a pre-emptive strike in the absence of an urgent threat.” They wanted more proof. So the Israelis send in a ground team to Dayr as Zawr to verify the presence of specific nuclear fuel producing hardware and gather soil samples.3

I expect, more importantly that they gathered radiation readings, prior to and just after arrival of shipments to the site in August and September using a standoff sensor similar to those used by U.S. Nuclear Emergency Search Teams. Such detectors can measure the fast neutron intensity flux emanating from weapons grade fuel from three-quarters of a mile away. Plus, they are combined with a camera that captures a picture of the source object, a car, a house; whatever surrounding the radiating mass.

By late-August or early September 2007 Israeli intelligence informs the U.S. that the ship with the suspected nuclear items is about to make landfall. “On 3 September the ship docked at the Syrian port of Tartous and the Israelis continued following the cargo as it was transported to the small town of Dayr as Zawr.”1 Undoubtedly, from this point on, U.S. spy satellite imagery, Infrared, and/or radar satellites tracked the sea / land shipment, augmented by U.S. Joint Star land movement tracking aircraft or with a Global Hawk system.

Mitchell’s Military Operations Analysis:
Just prior to 6 September, Israel pilots receive authority to attack using F-151 aircraft. 6 But F-15I are only air-to-air fighters so a ground-to-air aircraft were also needed. Given the current inventory of the Israeli Air Force it is reasonable that the attack was composed of their most advanced variants of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets: the F15I and F16I manufactured specially for Israel according to the IAF requirements.

F-15 & F-16

The attack formation could easily have been a mix of ten aircraft performing four assigned tasks along the mission route such as:
➢ 2 F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) deep-interdiction, air-to-air fighters to stop any Syrian defender aircraft.

➢ 4 F-16I Sufa (Storm) all-weather, air-to-ground strike bombers each carrying two AMG-88 HARM missiles. These aircraft would perform the suppression of enemy air defense by destroying the radar sites or spoofing / blinding them electronically. Two aircraft would be designated to ensure successful ingress of the force and two would be designated for successful egress.

➢ 3 F-16I Sufa (Storm) all-weather, air-to-ground strike bombers each carrying two 500 pound Infrared, fire-and-forget, delay-fuze, precision air-to-ground Maverick missiles.

➢ 2 F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) deep-interdiction, air-to-air fighters to perform bomb assessment after the target was hit, as well as be alternate aircraft to interdict any Syrian defender aircraft.

The formation would be designed to primarily get the Maverick-carrying aircraft over the target and secondarily to avoid loss of pilots/aircraft from enemy action.

Since the round trip distance was at least 1,216 miles (1,946 km) the flight range of the fuel drinking F16I’s (ferry range 2,002 miles with external fuel tanks) would be a concern for the mission planner. The three F16Is attacking the suspected nuclear facility target would likely be dropping external fuel tanks at the 500 mile and 1,000 mile marks. This would allow them to have sufficient internal fuel load to return to Israel after jettisoning the last fuel tank. Media reports of fuel tanks in the area east of Gaziantep, Turkey and near Akcakale, Turkey5 fit the drop scenario described above.

To recognize the third U.S. operational fingerprint of involvement, study Figure 1. which is intended to help the reader visualize the battlefield positioning and involvement of military units from the U.S., Israeli, and Turkey as the attack and escape evolved across 1,216 miles (1,946 km). Figure 1 shows the ingress route started in northern Israel, went north into Turkey, turned east and flew to vicinity of Akcakale on the Turkey-Syrian border, then southwest to the target site before racing north to escape back into Turkey and return to Haifa, Israel.


Since U.S. early warning AWACS aircraft, shown as triangles in the figure, commonly patrol in the Mediterranean Sea and in Iraq, their 350 mile observation range would guarantee their ability to observe the Israeli attack formation from lift off to return. Most likely an Israeli communications officer was on board the AWACS to provide real-time status reporting via encrypted communications to senior Israeli defense officers on the ground in Israel. Plus, an Israeli aircraft controller would have kept the attack formation informed of any Syrian fighters approaching the formation.

Figure 1 Battlefield Structure & Routes: Common patrol locations of U.S. AWACS along the western and eastern Syrian border would allow observation of the complete Israeli attack and escape route from wheels up to return.


Air Attack Map

Notice that the ingress and egress legs through Turkey would provide the attack formation protection from Syrian observation and engagement until the aircraft crossed the Turkey-Syrian border. Turkey’s cooperation was need and clearly supplied since no Turkey air defense fire was delivered on the attack formation. The exact route would have been designed to minimized radar observation of the formation by use of low-level flight and traveling behind mountain ranges.

Crossing Syrian territory to and from the target probably was conducted with afterburners to reduce the time inside enemy country. This would have consumed much fuel and thus another reason for configuring the F16Is with external fuel tanks.

Mitchell’s pilot rescue analysis
Though not mentioned in any media report that I saw, such an attack would have been planned to handle the contingency that a friendly aircraft could go down for mechanical or combat reasons. The Israeli mission planning officer would have wanted rescue helicopters as close to the Syrian border as possible in the north (Turkey) and east (Iraq) to create the shortest distance to a downed pilot.

H’s in Figure 1 depict such locations where Blackhawk helicopters could have sat so they would be the shortest worse-case-distance away from a pilot of only 100 miles (160 km), about a 40 minute flight to the pilot.

If the downed-pilot scenario occurred, the AWACS mission controller would vector the helicopter to the likely position of the downed aircraft while two of the F15I’s provided air cover for the helicopter during its rescue mission.

Security Conclusions:
Did nuclear grade fuel or a warhead reach Dayr as Zawr? No. Had such material been blown up at the target site a large radiation signature would have occurred. Someone or some agency with a Geiger counter or other radiation detection device would have uncovered such a signature by now and let the world know about it. But that hasn’t happened. So most likely what was destroyed was equipment for processing nuclear material into weapons grade material.

Is the world safer because of the joint attack by Israel, Turkey, and America on the suspected Syrian nuclear facility? That is, will our adversaries be less likely to act dangerously toward us in the future in regards to nuclear weapons? In regards to North Korea I say no. For Syria I say yes, and for Iran I say maybe.

Apparently, Korea actually succeeded in transferring nuclear hardware to Syria. To get paid, they probably only had to deliver the hardware to Syrian soil. That happened. So the Koreans outwitted the Americans and made money. Since they have weapons grade material or a weapon I expect they will be tempted to try again to fool the Americans and sell nuclear fuel or a weapon for a much higher reward.

Syrian, on the other hand, has been caught and punished for their attempt to progress farther down the nuclear path. So I believe they will be less dangerous for several reasons:

• Syria knows that three powerful, neighboring military forces can and will attack Syria if they detect confirmable nuclear facilities.
• Syria still is at war with Israel who borders on Syrian land, allowing Israel’s air force to easily reach any site inside Syria.
• Syrian air defense forces were easily penetrated by their arch enemy. This should cause the Syrians to hesitate.
• Development of nuclear material moved Syrian away from a strategy of engagement with Israel and the U.S. via proxy fighters (like Hezbollah) into being the primary adversary. This led to the Syrians being directly attacked.
• Nuclear progress by Syrian to gain nuclear weapons was thwarted.
• A plan by North Korea to hide nuclear material or items failed.

Have Iran and the U.S. stepped back from confrontation over nuclear arming of Iran. For the following reasons I can only say maybe:
• Some might argue that the Iranians must see the attack on Syria as an ominous warning. However, since hostage taking by Iranian students on November 4, 1979, Iran has been able to get away with just about anything it wants in relation to the United States without being painfully hurt. For decades their distance from the U.S. and Israel has protected them from military punishment when they act badly.
• The round trip distance from Tel Aviv to Tehran (central Iran) is 2,360 miles (1,824 km). So leaders in Iran recognize that it is far harder for Israel F-16I’s to attack them and return directly to Jewish soil. Israeli air-to-ground jets would have to refuel in air or land at a friendly base on the return leg, but the complexity of such a mission is much higher and less likely to succeed.
• The Iranians may believe that their nuclear facilities are better hidden, better dispersed, better hardened, and better protected than the Syrian’s facility. Plus, the Americans would be stressed to eliminate all of the Iranian facilities. Unfortunately, the Iranians may not yet grasp the ease of American Tomahawk missiles and stealth aircraft to deliver nationwide destruction in a time-on-target fashion.
• The Iranians may feel they just have to wait out the current Bush administration until a Democrat administration takes over and does not have the heart to fight in the Middle East.
• Iranian leaders probably believe that the Americans are reluctant to attack nuclear development facilities in Iran because U.S. leaders don’t want to have a source of oil to stop flowing.

Bottom line: vigilance and determination eliminated a threat to the West. But U.S and Israeli intelligence and military forces must remain vigilant until the next attempt of nuclear mischief.

1 We came so close to World War Three that day
The Spectator ^ | October 3, 2007 by James Forsyth and Douglas Davis

2 Airstrike , 06 September 2007

3 Israel Struck Syrian Nuclear Project By David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, Published: October 14, 2007

4 Understanding the Israeli Attack on Syria By Shmuel Rosner
Posted Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007, at 7:43 AM ET

5 Israel admits air strike on Syria

6 Rice Fails to Prevent Israeli Attack on Syria by Leslie Hardy
Tuesday, 09 October 2007

7 Israeli Air Force, Wikipedia

8 F-15 & F-16 Fact Sheets

9 AGM-65 Maverick, Wikipedia

10 AGM- 88 HARM, Wikipedia

11 Blackhawk Helicopter, Wikipedia