(HOST) Current diplomatic efforts to restrict nuclear development in Iran reminds commentator Bill Seamans of a similar showdown in the early 80’s with Iraq.
(SEAMANS) On June 7, 1981, twenty-five years ago today, Israeli planes destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor which was nearing completion near Baghdad. Today we cannot help but feel that one of the ironies of history is how the present often echoes the past. It was a preemptive strike launched by Prime Minister Menahem Begin after Mossad, the Israeli CIA, estimated that Osirak was close to producing a nuclear bomb. Begin saw a threat to Israel’s existence and ordered the world’s first air strike against a nuclear plant. The pilots were told that failure might mean Israel’s destruction.
The facts scribbled in my notebook while in Israel at the time were told to me by a very high Israeli authority. Eight American made Israeli Air Force F-16’s and eight more F-15’s were launched on the secret mission. Each F-16 carried two old-fashioned two thousand pound iron bombs because the Israelis decided that the new electronically guided smart bombs were too complicated and had a built-in possibility of error. They decided on the old reliable eyeball-on-the-target technique and tireless practice on a mockup in the Negev Desert. The F-15’s were armed with air-to-air missiles and flew shotgun.
The mission was executed perfectly and all the Israeli planes returned safely. According to someone who was recording what was said, Begin then phoned American Ambassador Samuel Lewis and asked him to relay the news to the Oval Office. Lewis’s response – and I quote – “Well, I have to tell you in all honesty that I suspect some people in the White House will be pretty furious about this. Your weaponry was procured from us for self-defense only.”
Begin’s voice rose to what was described as a feisty pitch – he said – “Self defense? What greater act of self-defense could there be but to demolish Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction designed to…..destroy our existence? I told you again and again, Sam, that either the U.S. does something to stop that reactor, or we will have to.” Washington condemned the action and President Reagan blocked the delivery of more American aircraft then in the pipeline to Israel.
In his official communique Begin said, “If ever such a threat reoccurs we shall take whatever preemptive measures are necessary to defend the citizens of Israel with all the means at our disposal.”
And now with Iraq, President Bush has adopted the strategic doctrine of preemption as did Prime Minister Begin twenty-five years ago…And now Iran is developing a nuclear capability and has threatened to destroy Israel as Saddam Hussein did twenty-five years ago.
Yes, one of the ironies of history truly is how the present often echoes the past.
Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.