Saddam Hussein, the terrorist and brutal dictator of Iraq, became the most powerful leader in Iraq in the late 1960’s. He formally became the President of Iraq only in 1979 – but was basically in charge of Iraq for years beforehand.
From the beginning, Saddam led a policy of aggression towards his neighbors, and in 1976, Iraq purchased a nuclear reactor from France and pursued an aggressive plan to build a nuclear weapons power plant in Osirak that they defined as being intended for “peaceful scientific research.”
In a most symbolic and threatening fashion, Saddam Hussein named the reactor the Tammuz 17 reactor – after the day that Israel’s Temple was breached by Babylonian (Iraqi) forces around 2,000 years earlier.
His government killed at least 250,000 Iraqis in their struggle to centralize Saddam’s control of Iraq and another half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers were killed in a brutal war against the neighboring Iran.
One of the most startling aspects of this war was the use of chemical weapons by Iraq on Iranian soldiers and Iraqi attacks on Iranian civilians.
This cemented the understanding of most of the world that when dealing with Saddam Hussein, they were dealing with a ruthless dictator who would not hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction to achieve his goals.
So when Israel discovered that he was building a secret nuclear reactor and threatened Israel, Israel knew that they had to act.
Israel’s Prime Minister at the time of the building of the Iraqi nuclear reactor was Menachem Begin, himself a uniquely suited individual to understand the nature of dictators who threatened Israel’s destruction.
Begin had been raised in Lithuania – bordering both Poland and Russia. Most of his family was gassed to death or killed in the Holocaust and he had suffered enormously in Russian prisons.
He did not take threats to the lives of masses of Jewish people in the Land of Israel lightly.
Many leaders of Israel’s opposition Labor party and Israel’s intelligence agency, and other foreign policy experts said that it was impossible to attack the reactor – it was too far away, and in the heart of enemy territory. Israel did not even share a border with Iraq. They would have to fly over Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Syria – all of whom were unfriendly or in a state of war with Israel.
However, the Israeli Air Force proved once again that it had the audacity to launch a workable plan and convince it’s leadership to approve it’s launching. On Sept. 7, 1981, Israel’s air force successfully flew to Osirak and bombed the reactor and put it out of commission for good! This act helped keep countless people safe in the State of Israel and all around Iraq.
Right after the attack, the responses varied, but were generally negative.
The Reagan administration’s official response was critical and condemned the attack. France declared the attack unacceptable.
The New York Times editorial section declared: ”Israel’s sneak attack on a French-built nuclear reactor near Baghdad was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression.”
However, two op-eds at the time actually praised Israel for helping avert a nuclear holocaust. William Safire and Alan Cranston were the exceptions who clearly praised Israel after the attack.
Nicholas Kristof has this to say in the New York Times on November 15, 2002, “The lesson of Osirak is very limited — that in extreme cases it is justifiable for a country to make a pre-emptive pinpoint strike to prevent an unpredictable enemy from gaining weapons of mass destruction that would be used against it.”
This requires alot of bravery, fierceness, and some powerful F-16’s with well-trained pilots who were willing to put their personal safety aside in order to insure the safety of the rest of the free world.
(One of the Israeli pilots who took on this daring mission was Ilan Ramon, who later became Israel’s first astronaut and was on the famous failed mission with NASA. Upon their return, sadly, the space shuttle Columbia exploded and was destroyed as it returned to Earth.)