Israel's 1981 Bombing of Osiraq
Jude Wanniski
June 1, 2004


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Where it All Began

In case you have not noticed, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal has continued to justify its ardent support for the pre-emptive war against Iraq even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found and no links between Saddam and Al Qaeda have been found. The latest rationale is that the 24 million people of Iraq are better off for the war, although the editors do not include the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and military who have died in the course of their liberation.

This morning's editpage goes much further, with a commentary by a senior vice president of Dow Jones & Co., L. Gordon Crovitz, who takes the rationale for pre-emptive war all the way back to June 1981, when the Israeli Air Force bombed the almost-completed billion-dollar nuclear-power plant outside Baghdad. As you will see in his review of a new book celebrating that event, Crovitz notes that the entire world condemned the clear act of aggression by Israel, with even the United States casting its vote in the United Nations against Israel. The only EXCEPTION was the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which praised the bombing -- on the grounds that Iraq was most certainly building an atom bomb.

In fact, for all these years, when it comes to all issues involving national security in general and the Middle East in particular, the Journal's editorial page has served as the personal fiefdom of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. Crovitz of course knows that as well as I do, having worked his way up to his present status at Dow Jones through the editpage. Trained as a lawyer, he became editor of the editorial page of the Journal's Asian edition, which took its cues from New York on all matters of national security. In reading his commentary, note what he does not tell his readers:

1. Iraq had signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which entitled it to receive assistance from the nuclear powers in building plants to generate electrical power. The Osiraq plant was constructed by the French, which had built an identical plant for Israel, which had not signed the NPT and provided the fissile material for its plant through its own sources. The difference is that NPT signators who received assistance had to also agree to frequent inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to make sure none of the fissile material used for power production was diverted to a weapons program.

2. Just as we now know Iraq had no WMD when we attacked it last year, we now know Iraq had no nuclear weapons program at the time of the Osiraq bombing and that it was the bombing that led Baghdad to initiate a clandestine weapons program outside the purview of the IAEA -- a program that ended in complete failure in any event.

3. Although the U.S. officially condemned the Israeli attack on Osiraq, for which Iraq was never compensated financially, the Pentagon gave Israel what assistance it could in planning the airstrike through a special office established soon after Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981. The man assigned to the office was Richard Perle, who has since congratulated himself for the timely success of the bombing -- hastily arranged so the plant could be destroyed before it had been fitted with nuclear material -- or the nuclear fallout would have contaminated the area and caused much more loss of life than the few workers killed in the strike.

4. The headline on his story, "Everyone now agrees it was right to attack Iraq pre-emptively," is the Journal's way of saying that it would have been much more difficult to subdue Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War if its power plant had not been destroyed and Saddam had found a way to sneak fissile material past the IAEA inspectors to build an Islamic bomb. Another way of looking at it is that Time magazine was right in stating: "Israel has vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontation in the Middle East."

5. Crovitz does not tell us that Israel has been seriously considering a pre-emptive bombing of the Iranian nuclear power plant outside Tehran, which the neo-cons in the Bush administration and the Journal's editors would of course celebrate as well.

* * * * *

Everyone now agrees it was right to attack Iraq pre-emptively.

BY L. Gordon Crovitz
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

A familiar news story: A hard-line government uses its powerful military to launch a unilateral pre-emptive strike. The United Nations and Europe are horrified, along with most of the American media. They condemn the strike and brush off claims that it was justified as an act of self-defense against an unpredictable tyrant.

So was it a terrible mistake, a lamentable error of judgment? Not at all. History now smiles on Israel's elimination of Saddam's nearly completed weapon of mass destruction more than 20 years ago.

In June 1981, eight Israeli jets flew at 100 feet across Jordan and Saudi Arabia, evading detection to destroy the French nuclear reactor at Osirak, just outside Baghdad. The raid followed years of failed diplomacy: Saddam's French, German and Belgian suppliers had refused to let anything disrupt their lucrative role in his oil-for-nukes program.

Until now, no one had told the full story of the extraordinary planning required for the raid and the derring-do of the pilots, who had calculated that there was a one-in-four chance of being shot out of the sky before reaching the target. Rodger Claire, a former magazine editor, has gained access to Israeli military records and to the pilots who handled the mission. In "Raid on the Sun," he evokes the rigors and the risks of the plan.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his Likud allies, such as Ariel Sharon, had to stiffen the spines of Labor Party and intelligence officials who feared the repercussions of such a raid. "If I have a choice of being popular and dead or unpopular and alive," Mr. Sharon told fellow cabinet members, "I choose being alive and unpopular."

The 600-mile trip to the facility went well beyond the design specs of Israel's U.S.-built F-16 Fighting Falcons, which carried special 2,000-pound bombs and jury-rigged external fuel tanks. The book focuses on Gen. David Ivry, commander of the Israeli Air Force, and on the eight mission pilots. These included Ilan Ramon, who would later die in the Columbia space-shuttle explosion. Mr. Claire introduces us to each of the pilots--which ones told their wives of the dangers, which ones developed superstitions about their aircraft and, yes, which one blacked out and missed his target. Mr. Claire describes the brutal sun and desert heat that made a dangerous mission also physically punishing. A movie-maker unafraid of political correctness--the Israeli military as heroic!--could build a blockbuster around this story.

World opinion was all but unanimous in its outrage, and American opinion too. The New York Times editorialized that "Israel's sneak attack on a French-built nuclear reactor near Baghdad was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression." Time magazine fretted that "Israel has vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontation in the Middle East." The U.S. secretary of state called the raid "reckless." The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said it was "shocking" and approved a U.N. resolution demanding that Israel make "appropriate redress" to Iraq.

This was during the first few months of the Reagan administration, so the secretary of state was Alexander Haig and the U.N. ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Caspar Weinberger, the defense secretary, feared the reaction in Arab capitals and suspended further sales of F-16s to Israel. If the administration's official reaction was to condemn, the president's private reaction was to admire: "What a terrific piece of bombing," Mr. Reagan said upon seeing photos of the reactor site.

There was at least one exception to the media's chorus of denunciation. Under the headline "Mourning the Bomb," The Wall Street Journal's lead editorial began: "An atom bomb for Iraq, we have learned in the past 24 hours, has become the latest great cause celebre of world opiniondom. Various governments, including our own, and a lot of pundits have been busily condemning Israel's raid on Iraq's nuclear reactor. Our own reaction is that it's nice to know that in Israel we have at least one nation left that still lives in the world of reality." The editorial added: "Of course Iraq was building a bomb," and "of course, given the Iraqi reputation for political nuttiness reaffirmed again in its starting a war with Iran, its atom bomb would also have been a danger to all its neighbors. We all ought to get together and send the Israelis a vote of thanks."

Israel sought security, not world gratitude, a realism that the U.S. perhaps should recall as we endure current carping. If even the Reagan administration at first condemned the action, we probably shouldn't be surprised by today's hand-wringing over the U.S. handling of Saddam, Iraq and the Bush doctrine of pre-emption.

In time, condemnation of Israel became gratitude. As Mr. Claire recalls at the conclusion of his book, Gen. Ivry a decade later received a satellite photo taken by the U.S. after the raid, showing its devastating effect. There was a handwritten note at the bottom, written just after the U.S. liberation of Kuwait in 1991. "With thanks and appreciation. You made our job easier in Desert Storm.--Dick Cheney."

Mr. Crovitz is senior vice president of Dow Jones & Co., which publishes The Wall Street Journal. You can buy "Raid on the Sun" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.

Copyright 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.