Operation Opera – Israel Airstrike on Iraq Nuclear Reactor 1981
Published on Sep 26, 2015
Operation Opera, also known as Operation Babylon and Raid on the Reactor, was a surprise Israeli air strike carried out on 7 June 1981, which destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction 17 kilometers, 10.5 miles, southeast of Baghdad. The operation came after Iran’s unsuccessful Operation Scorch Sword operation had caused minor damage to the same nuclear facility the previous year, the damage having been subsequently repaired by French technicians. Operation Opera, and related Israeli government statements following it, established the Begin Doctrine, which explicitly stated the strike was not an anomaly, but instead “a precedent for every future government in Israel.” Israel’s counter-proliferation preventive strike added another dimension to their existing policy, as it related to the nuclear capability of other states in the region.
In 1976, Iraq purchased an “Osiris”-class nuclear reactor from France. While 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, and said that it was designed to make nuclear weapons. On 7 June 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 was strongly criticized around the world, including in the United States, and Israel was rebuked by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly in two separate resolutions.
After Operation Desert Storm, the free world quietly praised Israel for eliminating Iraq’s Nuclear Treat, including France. Fact is, Iraq had plenty of oil for energy and absolutely no need for a nuclear reactor, except to research and build nuclear weapons.
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 pledged 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.
News of the audacious raid did not actually emerge until 24 hours later when Israel made its announcement. Only then did Iraq admit it had happened and express indignation.
One of the pilots involved was Ilan Ramon who trained as Israel’s first astronaut but was killed in the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003.
Two weeks after the Osirak attack Israel admitted it had the capability of developing its own nuclear weapons.
And in 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician was found guilty of espionage after he told a British newspaper, the Sunday Times, that Israel was secretly building atomic bombs.
French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac cultivated France’s special relationship with Iraq during the 1970s to maintain an influence in a region dominated by Anglo-Saxons and boost trade links with the oil-rich nation.
He led the universal condemnation of Israel’s attack on Osirak.
Then, 22 years later – as French president – Mr Chirac was vehemently against the USA and Britain going to war with Iraq over the issue of weapons of mass destruction.