Israeli Nuclear Reactor Raid, 38 Years Later

Stand for Israel  |  June 11, 2019

IAF pilots from Operation Opera
(Photo: IDF)

Thirty-eight years ago, Israeli pilots carried out a daring raid on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor. Not only did the operation protect the Holy Land, but it shaped the Middle East for years to come. The Times of Israel brings us testimony of the mission’s surviving pilots, who share how it went down and how Iran inadvertently led to Israel’s success:

Thirty-eight years after Operation Opera — the Israeli air attack that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak — surviving pilots gathered to mark the event, noting “one of the greatest ironies in history”: that the attack was enabled by the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

When Israel discovered in 1977 that Iraq was building a plutonium reactor that could be used to make nuclear weapons, the fighter jets at its disposal —  F-4 Phantoms and Skyhawks — were not capable of flying the over 1,000 miles into enemy territory and returning safely, recalled retired Maj. Gen. David Ivry, the IAF commander at the time, in a TV interview at the recent gathering.

But in 1979, Israel had a stroke of good fortune.

The Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a staunch US ally, leading the US cancel a massive deal to supply Iran with 75 top-of-the-line F-16 fighter jets.

The Americans then offered them to Israel…

“The fact that the jets came to us because of the Iranian revolution is one of the greatest ironies in history,” said Col. (Ret.) Ze’ev Raz, who led the June 7, 1981, raid, and who also participated in the get-together marking 38 years since the strike.

But even with the new jets, it was far from clear that they would be able to make it to Iraq and return safely with the fuel capacity of the F-16, which led to the air force employing a wide range of workarounds to try to make the mission possible…


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