Recap of Israel’s Attack on Iraq’s Nuclear Reactor, June 7, 1981

United Press International
June 14, 1981

Sunday, June 7 (UPI) ” Jacques Rimbaud sat on a caf” terrace in Tawaitha, Iraq, enjoying the late summer afternoon, his eyes casually turned to the dome-shaped nuclear complex a 3-minute jog away.

Rimbaud, like most of the 150 other French and Italian technicians who work at the site 9 miles (16km) south of teeming Baghdad, had the day off.

In Jerusalem, 600 miles (1000km) west, a small convoy of government sedans pulled up to the tree-shaded tawny-stone residence of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, his 15 cabinet ministers responding to an urgent summons.

At 5 p.m., most of the incredulous ministers learned for the first time Israeli fighter-bombers were well into a 3-hour indirectly routed mission to Iraq to carry out the spectacular 2-minute bombardment Rimbaud would witness 30 minutes later.

“Two of them made a pass over the plant to check defenses, then the other two followed, dropping four bombs,” Rimbaud said on his return to Paris.

Washington said eight single-engine U.S.-build F-16 fighters, camouflaged by Israel in earth, sand and blue-green, dropped 1-ton “dumb bombs” on the reactor.

High overhead, six more powerful, twin-engine blue-gray F-15s flew cover against Iraqi interceptors, the Israelis said the specially equipped planes included other models but did not identify them.

The pilots refueled in flight, traveling a route that took them through hostile Saudi Arabian airspace posing as Jordanians by speaking Arabic, U.S. sources said.

The four U.S. AWAC surveillance craft based in Saudi Arabia ” “a patrol too far away in the Persian Gulf ” ” failed to detect the Israeli advance, U.S. officials said.

Watching from the terrace, Rimbaud said after the bombing the planes swooped past again, probably to take photographs. He rushed to the site.

“The precision of the attack was stupefying,” he said. “The atomic reactor is unreachable and the anti-radiation shield had disappeared. The Israelis chose their hour perfectly to avoid maximum losses of human life.”

Not more than three people, one a French technician, were killed, the Israelis said.

Built underground 13 feet (4km) beneath the colossal structure, Begin disclosed later, was a heavily fortified facility where the Iraqis intended to reprocess the plutonium produced by the reactor to build the doomsday weapons they intended to unleash on Israel.

“As they flew over the last time the Stalin organs (multiple rocket launchers) opened up for 15 minutes. There were tracer bullets and anti-aircraft missiles fired too,” Rimbaud said.

To rebuild the Iraqi reactor, the construction worker said, “you will have to start by destroying everything that remains.”

Almost 24 hours passed before the Israeli public ” enjoying the Shavuoth national holiday ” learned that their air force had wiped out a nuclear reactor with atomic bomb potential and, with stupefying accuracy, intentionally left a nearby research reactor unscathed.

Israelis were jubilant. Their exquisite military machine again had shown its consummate skill. A perceived threat to their national existence had been set back three years at least.

The rest of a stunned world was quick and unanimous with biting condemnation, many, even among Israel’s few friends, accused her of an unconscionable breach of international law.

Yet even U.S. officials, deploring the action and charging illegal use of American-supplied warplanes, could not help ut admire its technical precision. The Defense Department spokesman said it marked a “new dimension” in Israeli combat activity in the region.

Begin, his Army Chief of Staff, intelligence chief and Air Force Commander, disclosed few operational details of the world’s first pre-emptive strike against an atomic reactor.

The planning took months, they said, at least since October, the hand-picked pilots trained repeatedly on models to ensure their bombs would strike the reactor’s most vulnerable parts.

Nevertheless, “obstacles and various considerations” forced postponement of the operation several times.

Though the bombs were standard, the pilots employed a new technique to carry out the attack, based on “operational and professional excellence,” having to overcome such problems as the distance from home, attacking such a “hardened” target and eluding the sophisticated air defenses around the site.

The only aspect of the mission to lack sensation was the pilot debriefing, as Air Force Commander David Ivri described it:

“Relatively boring.”

National History Day contestants, please read this before you contact me.

The Suffragents won the Gold Medal in US History in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a finalist for the 2018 Sally and Morris Lasky Prize, presented by the Center for Political History.  See Summer Camp Newsletters” and Facebook posts from book-related appearances. Reviews, notices, and articles about my books are under their titles here. My articles are here.

Upcoming Events 2019-2020: August 7:  Panel, “From Emma Goldman to the Marketplace of Ideas: Marking the 100th Anniversary of Free Speech at the Supreme Court.” (page 40) AEJMC, Toronto. August 14: Webinar, National Park Service. September 23: Bentson Dean’s Lecture, College of Arts and Science, New York University.October 17: Suffragents Panel, National Archives, Washington DC. [2020] June 4-6Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),”  Université de Lausanne (Switzerland).

Happened 2019: Exhibition Opening Remarks: “Women Get the Vote: A Historic Look at the Nineteenth Amendment,“New York Society Library. February 23: Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices,” UCLA Law School, Los Angeles.  March 13: The Suffragents,” Scarsdale Woman’s Club, Scarsdale NY. March 24: League of Women Voters, Albany County at the Bethlehem (NY) Public LibraryMarch 25:Judges, Lawyers, and Women’s Suffrage: Recognizing the Men Who Stood with Women on the Front Lines,” Gender Fairness Committee of the Third Judicial District, CLE, NY State Courts at SUNY Albany Law School, Albany NY. May 15: “The Republican Suffragents,” National Women’s Republican Club, New York City.