menachem begin heritage center.
(photo credit: iTravelJerusalem)
When prime minister Menachem Begin gave the order for the Israel Air Force to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor 17 km. southwest of Baghdad on June 7, 1981, he made the decision despite strong opposition from the heads of the Mossad and IDF intelligence and from opposition leader Shimon Peres.
The mission, code-named Operation Opera, was a dangerous undertaking, requiring IAF planes to fly more than 1,600 km. over Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and success was by no means certain. Nevertheless, Begin gave the okay, and Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor was destroyed. Mossad director Yitzhak Hofi and Military Intelligence chief Maj.- Gen. Yehoshua Saguy later said they were wrong and Begin was right.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the raid, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center (www.begincenter.org.il/en) in Jerusalem will unveil an exhibit about the operation on Monday at 7 p.m. The exhibit will include information about the reactor’s construction and Iraq’s collaboration with France in that respect, as well as Israeli diplomatic efforts to prevent the reactor’s completion.
Details about undercover Mossad operations to halt the reactor’s construction – assassinations of nuclear scientists working at the facility and the bombing of a French warehouse storing a reactor part about to be shipped to Iraq – will also be on display, along with information about the international community’s condemnation of Israel at the time and the praise Begin received 10 years later during the First Gulf War.
Current air force commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nechushtan; David Ivry, who led the IAF during Operation Opera; Arye Naor, the then-cabinet secretary; and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who succeeded Naor as cabinet secretary, will speak at the opening. Some of the former IAF pilots who participated in the raid will also attend.
The exhibit will remain at the Begin Heritage Center for one month before moving to IAF bases around the country.
Finding materials for the exhibit proved difficult because of the secret nature of the raid and all efforts and meetings connected to it, said Moshe Fuksman Shaal, deputy director of the Begin Heritage Center and curator of the exhibit.
Nevertheless, the center was able to use materials from its archives, such as photos and videos of Begin delivering speeches and photos of the UN meeting called after the mission was publicized.
The center also obtained the February 12, 1991, letter to Begin signed by 100 Knesset members, including political rivals of his such as Yitzhak Rabin, Motta Gur and Haim Bar-Lev, thanking him for his decision to bomb the Iraqi reactor (Peres refused to sign). The letter was written during The First Gulf War, when Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel.
The center also filmed interviews with some of the pilots who took part in the mission, and received video footage of the attack from the IAF planes that were flown (one of the pilots who participated in the raid was Ilan Ramon, who later became Israel’s first astronaut and died in the space shuttle Columbia
disaster on February 1, 2003).
The Government Press Office gave the center photos of Begin’s meeting
with the pilots after the mission, and Ivry, who was later ambassador to
the US, provided a gift he received after the First Gulf War from vice
president Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary during the war. The
gift was a satellite photo of the destroyed Osirak reactor, with an
inscription thanking Israel and stating that the war might not have been
a success if not for the Israeli raid.
After the nuclear reactor was destroyed, Begin said that Israel would
never allow its enemies to acquire weapons of mass destruction, an idea
which came to be known as the “Begin Doctrine.” The doctrine is the
guiding principle behind the argument for preemptive military action
against Iran’s nuclear program. Israel reportedly bombed a nuclear reactor in Syria
in September 2007.
Begin believed one of the main lessons of the Holocaust was that people
who say they wish to annihilate the Jewish people must be taken
seriously, and that all means must be deployed to prevent them from
carrying out their objective, said his longtime friend and aide, Yechiel
Kadishai, (chairman of the public council that supervises the Begin
“These kinds of people still exist and we have to be careful when
dealing with them,” added Kadishai who mentioned Hamas leaders and
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as examples. “This attitude was
expressed by Menachem Begin on many occasions before this lifesaving