Presented with the kind permission of Steve Feld
The true story of how Israel used politics, espionage, blackmail, targeted assassinations and finally military power to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor and deny him the bomb.
Wikipedia on Israel’s “Operation Opera”
Operation Babylon (Codeword: Opera) was a surprise Israeli air strike carried out on June 7, 1981, that destroyed a nuclear reactor under construction 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq.
In 1976, Iraq purchased an “Osiris”-class nuclear reactor from France. Iraq and France maintained that the reactor, named Osirak by the French, was intended for peaceful scientific research. The Israelis viewed the reactor with suspicion, saying that it was designed to make nuclear weapons.
On June 7, 1981, a flight of Israeli Air Force F-16A fighter aircraft, with an escort of F-15As, bombed and heavily damaged the Osirak reactor. Israel claimed it acted in self-defense, and that the reactor had “less than a month to go” before “it might have become critical.”
Ten Iraqi soldiers and one French civilian were killed. The attack took place about three weeks before the elections for the Knesset.
The attack was strongly criticized around the world and Israel was rebuked by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly in two separate resolutions. The destruction of Osirak has become cited as an example of a preventive strike in contemporary scholarship on international law.
BBC June 07 1981
1981: Israel bombs Baghdad nuclear reactor
The Israelis have bombed a French-built nuclear plant near Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, saying they believed it was designed to make nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.
It is the world’s first air strike against a nuclear plant.
An undisclosed number of F-15 interceptors and F-16 fighter bombers destroyed the Osirak reactor 18 miles south of Baghdad, on the orders of Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
The army command said all the Israeli planes returned safely.
The 70-megawatt uranium-powered reactor was near completion but had not been stocked with nuclear fuel so there was no danger of a leak, according to sources in the French atomic industry.
The Israeli Government explained its reasons for the attack in a statement saying: “The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.”
It acted now because it believed the reactor would be completed shortly – either at the beginning of July or the beginning of September 1981.
The Israelis criticised the French and Italians for supplying Iraq with nuclear materials and plegded to defend their territory at all costs.
The statement said: “We again call upon them to desist from this horrifying, inhuman deed. Under no circumstances will we allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people.”
The attack took place on a Sunday, they said, to prevent harming the French workers at the site who would have taken the day off.
There have been no reported casualties.
The Osirak reactor is part of a complex that includes a second, smaller reactor – also French-built – and a Soviet-made test reactor already in use.
Iraq denies the reactor was destined to produce nuclear weapons.