As Israel readies itself for its general election in two days time a lot of Israelis are thinking about the Iranian threat. In 1981, Thirty-two years ago, Iraq, the country adjacent to Iran, was extremely close, with enthusiastic help from both France and Italy, to completing a nuclear reactor in Osiraq which would have been able to produce weapons grade nuclear material. This was a clear and present danger to the Jewish State. The world, after imposing ineffectual and frequently ignored sanctions, was doing a lot of talking about the situation.
With the diplomatic option not producing the required results, and with time rapidly running out, Israel’s then Prime Minister Menachem Begin (who had lost many immediate family members in the Holocaust) summoned the head of the Israeli air force, who consulted with his chief of strategic planning, Ilan Ramon (later to become Israel’s first Astronaut aboard the ill-fated Columbia, whose tenth anniversary is currently being commemorated). Ramon conceived the almost desperate, yet incredible, idea of flying two thousand miles over hostile territory extremely close to the ground, to avoid enemy radar, and destroy the Iraqi reactor with specially designed bombs, and somehow return safely to Israel without refueling. Against all the odds, “Operation Opera,” as it was dubbed, succeeded.
Whilst the Israeli pre-emptive strike was widely condemned in international circles, it prevented a sworn enemy of the Jewish state from acquiring the means to destroy it. American troops were much relieved a decade later when they invaded a nuclear-free Iraq.
Yitzhak Shamir noted that:
Deterrence was not attained by other countries – France and Italy – and even the United States. It was attained by the State of Israel and its Prime Minster who decided, acted and created a fact that no one in the world today – with the exception of our enemies – regrets.
Fast-forward three decades. This time it is Iraq’s neighbour, Iran that is extremely close to producing weapons grade nuclear material. Iran has frequently threatened to destroy the “Zionist entity.” Despite the fact that the sanctions are more effective this time round, the Mullahs of Iran are still racing towards the finish line. The world is doing a lot of talking about the situation. The big question is, who will be Israel’s Menachem Begin and Ilan Ramon this time? To paraphrase; “It does not matter what the nations of the world say, it matters what the Jews do!”