Destroying an Iraqi nuclear reactor, 38 years ago

On June 7, 1981, Israeli F-16 fighter-bombers destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad.  It was known as Operation Opera (also called Operation Babylon in some circles).  It put an end to Saddam Hussein’s hopes of developing his own nuclear weapons.

38 years later, the pilots who undertook that mission have been reminiscing about it.

Thirty-eight years after Operation Opera — the Israeli air attack that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak — surviving pilots gathered to mark the event, noting “one of the greatest ironies in history”: that the attack was enabled by the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

When Israel discovered in 1977 that Iraq was building a plutonium reactor that could be used to make nuclear weapons, the fighter jets at its disposal —  F-4 Phantoms and Skyhawks — were not capable of flying the over 1,000 miles into enemy territory and returning safely, recalled retired Maj. Gen. David Ivry, the IAF commander at the time, in a TV interview at the recent gathering.

But in 1979, Israel had a stroke of good fortune.

The Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a staunch US ally, leading the US to cancel a massive deal to supply Iran with 75 top-of-the-line F-16 fighter jets.

The Americans then offered them to Israel.

“I immediately said yes,” recalled Ivri in the interview with Channel 12, broadcast on Sunday night. “Without asking anybody. When someone offers you the best fighter jets, first of all you say yes, then you see…,” he said.

“The fact that the jets came to us because of the Iranian revolution is one of the greatest ironies in history,” said Col. (Ret.) Ze’ev Raz, who led the June 7, 1981, raid, and who also participated in the get-together marking 38 years since the strike.

. . .

Yadlin hailed “the decision by Begin, and the doctrine that was established with this operation and later named after him: that if there is an Arab leader who calls for the destruction of Israel, Israel will not allow them to have nuclear weapons.”

Israel again employed the Begin Doctrine on September 6, 2007, in a mission known as Operation Orchard, when Israeli jets destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria. Israel has also repeatedly warned that it could attack Iran to prevent that country gaining nuclear weapons.

“That doctrine was founded in this [Osirak] operation, and it has not yet ended,” said Yadlin.

There’s more at the link.

I fear Iran may have lost sight of the so-called Begin doctrine.  It’s been threatening Israel for many years, and trying to develop nuclear weapons.  It recently increased its production of enriched uranium.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Israeli attack aircraft are now on a high state of alert, ready to strike at Iranian nuclear targets at even the slightest suspicion that a nuclear weapon is close to fruition.



  1. Until a few years ago, Israel could do Eff-all about Iranian nuclear reactors.
    They had no way to get there, except on a one-way kamikaze mission. It's simple geography: Iranian targets are several hundred miles farther than Iraq was, well beyond Israeli Air Force strike range.
    Which was no small part of why Iran proceeded with their nuclear weapons program.

    They were virtually untouchable, at least regionally.

    So instead, "someone" (Israel) sabotaged their nuclear development software with computer viruses, and they sent operatives to take out their nuclear scientists. To date, though no one has claimed responsibility, a dozen or two Iranian nuclear experts have spontaneously exploded on their daily activities in Iran.

    No one knows why.
    They just explode, standing at a bus stop when a motorcycle with a frame packed with Semtex goes all explodey.

    Et cetera.

    It's almost as big a coincidence as the number of dead former Clinton folks who've committed suicide with three shots to the back of their own heads.

    Then, once it became clear even to CNN that Iran was working on nuclear weapons-grade fissile material, the U.S. DoD and State Department suddenly decided Israel and the IAF need the ability to do mid-air refueling. And sold them tankers to do it, and training on how to do it.

    They can now hit Iranian targets with ease, some years after getting the airborne tanker aircraft to extend their max range, something we'd withheld on principle due to Saudi concerns about Israel someday deciding Riyadh or Mecca (also previously beyond IAF max range) needed a wake-up call.

    Apparently, in light of a possible Iranian bomb, even the Saudis have dropped their prior objections to giving the IAF tankers.

    Quite a coincidence, huh?

  2. @Aesop: Not to mention that the Saudis have allegedly offered Israel the use of their Air Force facilities at Hafar Al-Batin, near Kuwait and within easy striking distance of Iran. Saudi Arabia operates F-15 aircraft, as does Israel; so, with an appropriate paint job, who's to say which nation's F-15's are flying in and out?

  3. I would not put it past the fine young people at Israeli Aerospace or at some other defense industry to have come out with an appropriate stand-off weapon, maybe taking some of our tech and doing to it what they are famous for, making it hit harder, faster, better.

    And now they have F-35s, and like them. And are flying the ever-living daylights out of them. Gee, wonder what they could use latest-gen strike/attack aircraft for. Hmmm…

    Be really funny if one of their satellites launched recently via SpaceX was designed accidentally to provide not only weather but targeting data for such a strike.

    Israel, doing more with less since 1948…

    And… with the semi-regime change in Saudi Arabia, who knows? Things are getting strangely good there, coincidentally with President Trump in charge over here. Coincidentally…

  4. Let Israel's sense of self-preservation "do all the dirty work".
    This could turn out to be quite a "relief" for the U.S. at present.

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