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July 13, 2006

Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak—should it consider the same thing for Iran’s nuclear threat?

Dear Friend of FLAME:

Twenty-five years ago, Israel's' then prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the Israeli air force to bomb and put out of commission the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. The raid, though logistically very difficult, was spectacularly successful. Iraq's nuclear capability was eliminated, and an enormous danger for the entire world was eliminated.

In a recent article published by the New York Post, columnist Barry Rubin explains in some detail what Israel accomplished by this daring raid. At the time, every government, including that of the United States, criticized Israel harshly for this brave and important act. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Israel for putting Osirak out of commission. But such gratitude has never been expressed, not even by the United States. Rubin goes some distance in putting this good deed in perspective and pointing out the possible virtue in a similar act against Iran. I think you’ll come away from this historical review with a new perspective on the threat that faces Israel and the world today. The question remains: How will we respond this time to the prospect of a crazed government with its finger on the ultimate trigger?

Best regards,

Gerardo Joffe
President, FLAME


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Bombing Wisely and Well
By Barry Rubin, NY Post, June 7, 2006

On June 7, 1981, in a daring raid across hundreds of miles and hostile Arab states, Israeli planes blasted Iraq's Osirak reactor and stopped Saddam Hussein from getting nuclear weapons.

Twenty-five years later, both the correctness and relevance of that attack are clearer than ever.

One lesson is that wise leaders must sometimes act despite international complaints and criticism. At the time, many countries and much of the Western media labeled Israel's defensive measure as verging on piracy and terrorism, still one more reason to bash the Jewish state.

Later, of course, it became clear how vital was Israel's action.

If Israel had not made such a bold - and risky - move, Saddam certainly would have had nuclear weapons by the end of the 1980s. Knowing the Iraqi dictator's aggressive and ruthless ways, we can understand that this would have changed the course of world history.

First, in his war with Iran, Saddam might have used, and surely would have threatened to drop, atomic bombs. Thus, Israel saved hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives by the Osirak raid— although the Tehran regime, far from showing any gratitude, now threatens to wipe Israel off the map with nuclear weapons.

But if Saddam had waved his nuclear weapons and won the war, he would have become the leader and hero of the Arab world, uniting it in an all-out assault on the West far greater than anything seen. Terrorist groups, both inspired and guided by Baghdad, would have waged far more attacks against the United States.

And that's not all. Nine years after Osirak, even without atomic weapons, Saddam invaded and annexed Kuwait. If he had nuclear arms, would the United States have dared act to counter his aggression in this case? Probably not. The Saudis surely would have been too afraid to invite in U.S. help. White flags would have gone up all over Europe.

American influence in the region would have plummeted toward zero. The Palestinians, who cheered Saddam's 1991 non-nuclear missile attacks on Israel, would have hailed him as their hero. Pro-Saddam movements would have arisen in every Arab state. American troops, if they intervened anywhere, would face the threat of nuclear annihilation, which would have forced the United States to threaten to retaliate in kind.

The word for all this: nightmare.

In fact, then, the successful Osirak attack was one of the most important events in modern history—an enormous boon to the Middle East and the world.

This week Israel's military issued a five-year plan in which the nuclear threat from Iran is No, 1 on the list. But while Israel would hit Iran's nuclear installations if it believed an attack was imminent, this would be far harder than the Osirak raid.

The distances are further, the nuclear facilities are scattered, and the defensive countermeasures are stronger than in Iraq's case. Israeli leaders believe that only the United States can carry out such a mission.

Yet while a U.S. attack on Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities may seem called for, it is also extremely difficult. A raid might fail in a humiliating way. International support is unlikely, and even domestic U.S. support seems dubious. And the chance of a full-scale war with Iran, including a Tehran-ordered terrorism offensive, is a serious danger. Understandably, President Bush is first attempting to exhaust diplomatic means of resolving the issue, despite Iran's near-perfect record on broken promises on this issue.

It seems likely that the Iranian regime will keep talking up to the moment it gets the bomb, although estimates vary widely on how long that would take. If no one stops it, the consequences will be very serious.

This is why one can be nostalgic about the kind of clear, simple and effective solution the Osirak attack brought 25 years ago.


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