Israeli Attack on Iraqi Reactor Offers History Lesson for Obama

The Obama Administration is blustering that more drastic sanctions will be imposed on Iran if it does not stop enriching uranium, but Russia and China have undermined the threat by saying they will not support such sanctions. Meanwhile, Israel watches from the sideline and makes its own calculations of its national interest and stirring memories of 1981.

On June 7, 1981, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis was delivering a briefing before dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv when he was told Prime Minister Menachem Begin was on the phone. Lewis picked up the phone and Begin told him, “Sam, I would like you to convey urgently a message from me to President Reagan. About one hour ago, our Air Force destroyed the nuclear reactor near Baghdad; all the planes have returned safely.”

At that moment Lewis was shocked, but the fact that Israel had attacked Osirak was not completely unexpected because the possibility had been discussed for months. In fact, almost a year earlier, Begin and his military advisers had told Lewis they were growing increasingly concerned about Iraq’s nuclear program. U.S. and Israeli intelligence officers were exchanging information and they agreed that Iraq was seeking to develop a nuclear capability through the use of enriched uranium produced by the Osirak reactor. As is the case today with Iran, however, the two sides disagreed over how much progress the Iraqis were making and when the reactor might go into operation. Begin decided Israel would have to attack before the reactor went critical because of the risk of nuclear fall-out over Baghdad, which would have killed innocent civilians. The Israelis predicted it would go critical by the end of the summer of 1981 while the U.S. experts said it would take at least another two years....

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