In 2007, Israeli intelligence determined that Syria had built a clandestine nuclear reactor—clearly intended for developing nuclear weapons—in a remote desert region. As the cabinet and military brass debated what to do, it was becoming increasingly clear that the reactor was set to go “hot” imminently, thus making an attack much more dangerous. By the time then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered an airstrike, he had concluded that it had to take place immediately. Yaakov Katz, in a passage from his recent book on the subject, tells the story:
The night before [the decision was reached], on September 4, the air force had carried out its last training flight, this time dropping live bombs over an imaginary target in the Negev desert. After months of training, [during which they did not know the nature of the mission], the pilots were as ready as they would ever be. The IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the air-force general Eliezer Shkedi had been there to watch. Shkedi, who had flown with them on one of the earlier training sessions, now gathered the pilots in the squadron’s briefing room. “Your mission is to bomb a nuclear reactor in Syria,” he told the airmen who looked at one another in disbelief. “It is of utmost importance for the safety and security of the Jewish people and the state of Israel.”
Shkedi told the pilots that the operation had three objectives: destroy the reactor, return to Israel without losing any aircraft, and complete the mission as quietly as possible and without detection. The name the air force gave the operation said it all: Soft Melody. . . .
At around 10:30 p.m., four F-15s took off from the Hatzerim base in southern Israel and another four F-16s from the Ramon base in the Negev desert. Altogether, the planes were carrying around twenty tons of bombs, more than enough to destroy a building less than 2,000 meters square. Some of the bombs were equipped with satellite guidance systems. Each had a different level of penetration. This way, if one didn’t work, the others could compensate. . . .