Former colleagues of PM mark Osirak anniversary

J'lem's Menachem Begin Heritage Center unveils exhibit about the June 7, 1981, raid on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Iraq.

June 7, 2011 05:35
3 minute read.
An IAF fighter jet takes off [illustrative photo]

IDF IAF fighter jet takes off airstrik air strike 311 (R). (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)


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To commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the Israel Air Force strike on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem unveiled an exhibit about the June 7, 1981, raid on Monday evening.

David Ivry, who commanded the IAF at the time of the mission; Maj.-Gen. Ido Nechushtan, the present IAF commander; Arye Naor, the cabinet secretary in 1981; and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who succeeded Naor as cabinet secretary, spoke at the opening. Some of the pilots who participated also attended.

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The exhibit will remain at the Begin Center for a month before moving to IAF bases around the country.

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Code-named Operation Opera, the mission required IAF planes to fly more than 1,600 kilometers across Jordanian, Saudi and Iraqi airspace, and success was not assured. Prime Minister Begin gave the order despite opposition from then- Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Yadin, Minister of Interior Affairs Yosef Burg, Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi, military intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Yehoshua Saguy, opposition leader Shimon Peres and others.

Meridor noted that exactly 44 years ago, he was fighting in a tank division during the Six Day War, when Israel’s military might was at its peak intensity for the time.

Some of Israel’s enemies, such as Egypt, came to accept the existence of Israel and chose peace, said Meridor, while Iraq did not, pursuing nuclear weapons because it knew Israel could not be defeated on the battlefield.

“We must identify opportunities to make smart decisions that require courage and vision,” said Meridor, who praised the decision to bomb Osirak as well as Begin’s pursuit of the peace treaty with Egypt. “Begin was such a leader. He was unique.”

After the raid, Begin stated that Israel would never allow its enemies to acquire weapons of mass destruction, a concept that later became known as the “Begin Doctrine.” The doctrine is the backbone of the argument for a preemptive military strike against Iran. Israel also reportedly bombed a nuclear reactor in Syria in September 2007.

“In my view an operation should correspond with the target,” Naor told The Jerusalem Post before he spoke at the exhibit opening.

“We want them not to have nuclear capability – that is the target. The target is not to send the air force to bomb Iran.”

The raid on the Iraqi reactor was very risky, and the risks involved with an attack on Iran would be more numerous, said Naor, adding “That’s why a strike perhaps is not the right answer to this threat. We should find something [else], and perhaps we are doing it.”

Israel was reportedly behind the Stuxnet computer virus which caused significant set-backs to Iran’s uranium enrichment program, as well as several assassinations of nuclear scientists working on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Moshe Arens, who served three terms as defense minister and held that position during the First Gulf War, said there can be no comparison between Operation Opera and a possible strike against Iran because the Iranian program includes multiple facilities, some of which are underground.

When asked if Iraq could have fired a nuclear weapon instead of Scud missiles at Israel during the Gulf War in 1991 had it not been for the 1981 strike, Arens, who did not attend the opening, responded, “It’s a possibility.”

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