Israeli Defense Minister Gantz said in an interview recently that the Israeli military is updating its plan to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. If the United States is unwilling to assist, the Israeli military will prepare for independent operations. Looking back at history, Israel’s raids on other countries’ nuclear facilities have long been precedents. On June 7, 1981, the Air Force launched Operation Opera (also known as Operation Babylon) to attack a nuclear facility in Iraq and destroy a nuclear facility located 17 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.
In the 1960s, Iraq began to develop a nuclear program. In the 1970s, the Iraqi government persuaded France to sell an “Osiris-class” nuclear research reactor to Baghdad. The purchase also includes a smaller supporting Isis reactor, 72 kilograms of enriched uranium with an abundance of 93%, and personnel training services. In November 1975, France and Iran signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. In 1979, Iraq began to build a 40-megawatt light-water reactor and a small experimental reactor near Baghdad. The main reactor is called “Osrak” by the French, and the Iraqi government named the main reactor “Tammuz 1” and the smaller reactor “Tammuz 2”.
The Iraqi nuclear program has attracted close attention from Israel. As early as the first term of former Israeli Prime Minister Rabin (1974-1977), the Israeli government began to discuss what measures should be taken to deal with the nuclear reactor issue in Iraq. It is said that the Israeli government began to conduct action planning and personnel training during this period. After Begin became the prime minister of Israel in 1977, he authorized the construction of a full-scale model of the Iraqi reactor for pilot bombing practice. In addition, Begin’s diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue in Iraq failed to work, and he feared that delaying it would pose a fatal threat to the country. In the spring of 1979, Begin concluded that a preemptive strike was needed against Iraq’s nuclear facilities.
After the cabinet approved the air strike plan, the military began to plan specific operations. The Israeli military needs photographic information on the layout of Iraq’s nuclear facilities. There are reports that this intelligence was provided by Iran to Israel. On November 30, 1980, an Iranian reconnaissance plane took a picture of the Osrak reactor. Allegedly, these aerial photos were placed in a top-secret metal container, and then the Iranian military sent them to Israel. After obtaining these photos, the Israeli army began to practice “Operation Theater.”
At 3:55 pm local time on June 7, 1981, Israeli airstrikes officially began. Fighters took off from Etzion Air Base in Sinai Peninsula and flew over Jordan and Saudi airspace. To avoid being detected, the pilots told the Jordanian air traffic controller that it was an off-route Saudi patrol team when flying in Jordanian airspace. When flying over Saudi Arabia, they pretended to be Jordanians and used Jordanian radio signals and formations. . King Hussein of Jordan, who was on vacation in the Gulf of Aqaba, witnessed the plane flying over his yacht and noticed the Israeli sign on the plane. Taking into account the location, heading, and equipment of these aircraft, King Hussein quickly concluded that Iraq’s nuclear reactor was the most likely target, and he immediately asked the Jordanian government to alert Iraq. However, due to a communication failure, the Iraqi side did not receive this message, nor was it discovered when the plane entered Iraq’s airspace. Israel’s 8 F-16 fighter jets and 6 F-15 fighter jets were divided into two teams after entering Iraq’s airspace. Two F-15 fighter jets escorted the F-16 fighter squadron at close range, and the remaining 4 F-15 fighter jets were scattered to Iraq. The airspace serves as a reserve force.
At 6:35 pm on June 7, 1981, at a distance of 20 kilometers from the Osrak reactor facility, the Air Force F-16 fighter formation climbed to 2,100 meters, and then dived at a speed of 1,100 kilometers per hour at 35 degrees. The goal was Reactor facilities. In the air at a distance of 1100 meters from the ground, F-16 fighter jets dropped bombs in pairs every 5 seconds. Of the 16 bombs dropped, at least 8 bombs hit the dome of the reactor containment. Later, it was revealed that half an hour before the Israeli fighter planes arrived at the nuclear reactor, a group of Iraqi soldiers in charge of air defense left their posts to eat and turned off the radar. However, the Israeli fighters were still intercepted by the Iraqi air defense forces, but managed to avoid the remaining air defense firepower of the reactor. After completing the air raid mission, they climbed to a high altitude in a formation of fighter jets and then returned to Israel. The air strike lasted less than two minutes.
In this air strike, 10 Iraqi soldiers and 1 French engineer were killed. Afterwards, Iraq announced that it would rebuild the nuclear facility, and France agreed in principle to help rebuild it. However, due to various factors including the Iran-Iraq War, international pressure and the issue of Iraq’s payment, the Franco-Iran negotiations broke down in 1984, and France withdrew from the project. The Osrak nuclear facility remained in a damaged state until it was completely destroyed during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Israel claims that the “Operation Theater” delayed Iraq’s nuclear program by at least 10 years.
The Israeli air strikes aroused condemnation from the international community. On June 19, 1981, the UN Security Council voted to pass Resolution 487, which strongly condemned Israel’s attacks as “clearly contrary to the UN Charter and international codes of conduct” and called on Israel not to launch such attacks in the future. The United States also voted in favor of the resolution and postponed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Israel, but the United States prevented the United Nations from taking punitive actions against Israel. The Board of Directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency held a meeting from June 9 to 12 that year to condemn Israel’s actions. Later, the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to suspend all technical assistance to Israel. British Prime Minister Thatcher was furious with Israel’s actions. President Reagan also expressed dissatisfaction with Israel.
It is worth mentioning that the Israeli raid on Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981 was actually an application of the “Begin’s creed.” The “Begin’s creed” refers to the Israeli government’s preventive strikes in order to prevent potential enemies from possessing weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons. The roots of this creed can be traced back at least to the “Operation Damocles” in the early 1960s. The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad used letter bombs and kidnapping to threaten the German scientists and technicians who developed rockets for Egypt to return to Europe. After this action was exposed, Israel’s national image was severely affected.