What really happened on September 6th, hours before daylight, when Israeli planes flew over Turkish airspace and crossed into Syria? The question is being asked almost obsessively by members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities, by military analysts and political analysts, by friends and foes of Israel, by those people concerned with the happenings in the Middle East.
Everyone, it seems, is voicing an opinion. And then, as new details emerge, voicing another opinion, another take on the situation. Admittedly, I am as guilty as others. Everyone has something to say, everyone except Israel.
Israel has been uncharacteristically silent on this question. The country famous for military censored, politically sensitive and top secret information leaks has installed a double deep lock on the details of this foray over hostile skies. Not a word has been spoken, no explanation or analysis has found its way into print - nada, nothing, "gornisht."
So what do I think really happened and why do I think it happened? I can make only one definitive statement about the entire situation, the rest is all speculation - educated, insightful speculation.
The only absolute conclusion I have reached given the available information and sketchy intel and taking into accounts the reports that have so far been received, is to say that I feel confident that whatever Syria has said is totally unreliable. To that I would add that the comments of North Korea have been obvious obfuscations. That leaves us with a big problem. With two such unreliable parties as principle players in this situation, with the third party keeping completely mum, how can I piece together what really happened?
My analysis is also based on past experience, patterns of behavior and instinct. What probably happened is that North Korea and Syria thought it would be a good idea to amass nuclear warheads and hold them as a surprise weapon against Israel. North Korea has the weapons and Syria wants them. Both countries are pariah nations and they are co-joined in their antipathy to the West, principally the United States which, by extension, means Israel.
Intelligence from Turkey as well as from several non-official Israeli sources shows that this was more than a plan. Syria was actually in receipt of the weapons. In fact, a Kuwaiti newspaper asserts that Turkey officially pointed out to Israel the location of the warheads.
Missiles were sent to Syria by way of several ships flying North Korean flags. The vessels made their way first to Port Said, Egypt and then to Syria. Once they were in Syria the materials were unloaded and transported to the mountain region. That is where Israeli planes found and destroyed them.
Ronen Solomon, an Israeli researcher who watches the movement of ships using local port information and websites for tracking, has been quoted as saying that the ships arrived in Syria on September 3rd which would put the drop three days before the air strike. The cargo was listed as cement. The flags were North Korean.
If you were to search the Syrian website listing the arrivals of these ships right now, you would find no entry on North Korean ships delivering cement. The file has not been deleted, it has been white washed. The entry now lists the arrival of a ship bearing "no flag." That is not only an untruth, it is against international law. All ships must fly under a country flag and no ship is permitted entry into a port unless it has been registered with a country.
One Israeli pilot has been quoted as saying neither he nor his colleagues in the sky knew the details of the plan until they were airborne. That makes sense given the propensity for leaks in Israel. I have also heard that a special, extremely high flying scouting plane was also sent up along with the fighter planes. As many as eight planes were involved in the operation.
The most astounding piece of information to emerge about Israel's handling of this top secret operation is the report that Israeli ground troops were sent into the region days before the pre dawn flight gathering intelligence and specifying and confirming the projected targets. It seems that the ground soldiers literally used lasers to pinpoint the targets on the ground as markers for the pilots. Then the pilots went home and never said a word.
More than taking out missiles that were clearly aimed at them, the Israelis were sending a message. It was a message to the entire region, including Iran. And the message has been received loud and clear, probably because it was conveyed with accuracy and precision but probably also because it came without spin, without excuse, without cover-up or disingenuous apology.
Do not amass nuclear weapons that are intended for use against Israel.
And that's my take on the events of September 6th, 2007 over the skies of Syria.