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Context of 'September 30, 1980: Iran Bombs Iraqi Nuclear Facility'

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Iran conducts a limited air strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, after being publicly exhorted to do so by Israel’s chief of Army intelligence. The Osirak reactor is at the same site as the Iraq Nuclear Research Center, in al-Tuwaitha, where Israeli intelligence believes the first Arab atomic bomb will be assembled. The strike is part of a larger strike by Iran against a conventional electric power plant near Baghdad. The strike inflicts only minor damage, and the plant is quickly repaired and brought back online. Iran will not conduct any further air strikes against Iraqi nuclear facilities throughout the entire Iran-Iraq War. In fact, it is not clear whether the Iranian strike is a pre-planned bombing raid by Iranian war planners, or an air strike by two pilots with a chance at a target of opportunity. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Institute for National Strategic Studies, 5/1995] In June 1981, Israel will obliterate the Osirak facility (see June 7, 1981).

Entity Tags: Israeli Field Intelligence Corps

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran.F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran. [Source: Reuben Johnson / Weekly Standard]Israeli officials secretly ask Reagan administration officials for authorization to transfer arms of US origin to Iran. Officials in the Departments of Defense and State have known of Israeli arms sales to Iran that predate Reagan’s installation as president and the freeing of the American hostages, and since Reagan’s ascension to power, plans for US arms sales to Iran have been in the works (see January 28, 1981). Secretary of State Alexander Haig tells Israel that it is acceptable “in principle” for Israel to sell only F-4 fighter plane parts, and the US must approve specific arms-sales lists in advance. It shortly becomes evident, according to State Department documents leaked years later to the press, that Israel is not submitting lists for approval, and is selling US-made arms to Iran far in excess of spare parts for a specific model of fighter jet. (By the mid-1980s, officials will acknowledge that several billion dollars’ worth of ammunition and parts worth would flow from Israel to Iran each year.) Little oversight is exercised on the arms sales; one US ambassador to the region will say in 1992, “[I]t is probable that those who were to serve as their proxies—Israel and private international arms dealers—had agendas of their own, and the end result was that more arms were shipped than anyone in the administration wanted.” The Israeli arms transfers also violate the Arms Export Control Act, which requires written permission from the US for a nation to transfer US-made arms to a third party, and requires the president to immediately inform Congress when such transfers take place. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Arms Export Control Act, US Department of State, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin calls televangelist and nascent political ally Jerry Falwell (see 1980) and says: “Tomorrow you’re going to read some strange things about what we’re going to do. But our safety is at stake. I wanted you, my good friend, to know what we are going to do.” Israel is preparing to use US-provided F-16s to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor (see June 7, 1981). Begin is concerned that the US will object to Israel’s use of the aircraft for non-defensive purposes. Falwell tells Begin, “I want to congratulate you for a mission that [makes] us very proud that we manufactured those F-16s.” Many Reagan officials are not happy that Israel violated the agreement with the US over use of the warplanes, but even though Vice President Bush and Chief of Staff James Baker both believe that Israel should be punished, Begin has provided himself cover on the Christian right. [Unger, 2007, pp. 109-110]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, George Herbert Walker Bush, James A. Baker, Jerry Falwell, Menachem Begin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Osirak nuclear facility.Osirak nuclear facility. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org] (click image to enlarge)On the order of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and after heated debate among Israeli leaders, Israeli warplanes strike the Osirak (also spelled Osiraq) Tammuz I nuclear plant at al-Tuwaitha near Baghdad, destroying it and dealing a severe setback to Iraq’s nuclear program. Israel claims it fears Iraq is building a nuclear weapon with which to strike it. Osirak is a French-made nuclear reactor, which is near completion but lacks any nuclear fuel, thereby raising no danger of any radioactive link. Ariel Sharon, concurrently Defense Minister and a proponent of the strike, later says, “This was perhaps the most difficult decision which faced any [Israeli] government during all the years of the state’s existence.” The Israeli government states after the strike, “The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing, whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.… Under no circumstances will we allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people.” The reactor is slated to be completed by September, 1981, though it would be years before it could produce any nuclear-grade fissionable material. Iraq denies the reactor is developed to produce nuclear weapons, though the construction of the plant gives credence to claims that Iraq is more interested in building a weapon than generating electricity. (After the strike, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein says, “Any state in the world which really wants peace… should help the Arabs in one way or another to acquire atomic bombs,” giving further credence to suspicions that Hussein wanted to build a nuclear weapon.) The Israeli strike follows up a September 1980 raid on the Osirak facility by Iranian warplanes (see September 30, 1980). Publicly, Iran and Israel are dire enemies, but Israel has begun secretly selling US-made arms to Iran as a way to counterbalance the threat posed by Iraq (see 1981). [BBC, 7/7/1981; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Institute for Strategic Studies, 5/1995] In 1984, Brookings Institution fellow Lucien Vandenbroucke will write, “Ironically, Israel’s raid may prove to be a brilliant tactical success achieved at the expense of the country’s long-term interests. Certainly, the attack set Iraq’s nuclear program back several years. But the strike also ushered in a de facto Israeli claim to nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, a move that in the long run generally promises to encourage the larger Arab world on the nuclear path.… In the decision-making process, Israeli fears and the propensity to rely on worst-case analyses seem to have prevailed. The advocates of the strike focused on the unreasonable, rather than the reasonable, aspects of Iraqi behavior, and thus even a limited prospect that Iraq might soon acquire a nuclear bomb became more of a risk than they were prepared to accept.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/1984]

Entity Tags: Brookings Institution, Saddam Hussein, Lucien Vandenbroucke, Menachem Begin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Tariq Aziz.Tariq Aziz. [Source: BBC]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, the author of a secret policy memo detailing the administration’s new and covert military support for Iraq (see January 14, 1984), meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, in Baghdad. Murphy later describes Aziz as wearing olive-green fatigues, clenching a Cuban cigar between his teeth, and sporting a pearl-handled revolver. Aziz welcomes the covert arms supplies from the US, and is particularly interested in the proposed construction of an oil pipeline to run from Iraq to Jordan, very near the Israeli border. However, mindful of the recent destruction of Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak by the Israelis (see June 7, 1981), Aziz insists that the US help finance the pipeline, both with government funds and private participation. Murphy agrees that the project is invaluable both in a geopolitical and an economic sense, and says he will so inform his Washington superiors. Murphy gingerly raises the question of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops (see 1982), but Aziz denies any such usages. Murphy doesn’t press the issue, but says that Iraq must, according to Murphy, “eliminate doubts in the international community by making their positions and explanations as clear and understandable to the international public as the allegations have been.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Richard W. Murphy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, says in a speech delivered at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s annual dinner that Saddam Hussein “is busily at work on a nuclear weapon” and that “it’s simply a matter of time before he acquires nuclear weapons.” His assertion is based on information that was provided to him personally by Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza. According to Perle, Hamza said that after the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 (see June 7, 1981), Iraq built some 400 uranium enrichment facilities all over the country in order to protect its nuclear program from future attacks. “Some look like farmhouses, some of them look like classrooms, some of them look like warehouses. You’ll never find them. They don’t turn out much but every day they turn out a little bit of nuclear materials.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Neoconservative founder Norman Podhoretz, a senior foreign adviser to Republican presidential frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, says the US has no other choice than to bomb Iran. Podhoretz says heavy and immediate strikes against Iran are necessary to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “None of the alternatives to military action—negotiations, sanctions, provoking an internal insurrection—can possibly work,” Podhoretz says. “They’re all ways of evading the terrible choice we have to make which is to either let them get the bomb or to bomb them.” Podhoretz says that such strikes would be effective: “People I’ve talked to have no doubt we could set [Iran’s nuclear program] five or 10 years. There are those who believe we can get the underground facilities as well with these highly sophisticated bunker-busting munitions.” (Podhoretz does not identify the people he has “talked to.”) “I would say it would take five minutes. You’d wake up one morning and the strikes would have been ordered and carried out during the night. All the president has to do is say go.” Giuliani has echoed Podhoretz’s belligerence towards Iran; last month, Giuliani told a London audience that Iran should be given “an absolute assurance that, if they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them or we will set them back five or 10 years.” Podhoretz says he was pleasantly surprised to hear Giuliani make such assertions: “I was even surprised he went that far. I’m sure some of his political people were telling him to go slow…. I wouldn’t advise any candidate to come out and say we have to bomb—it’s not a prudent thing to say at this stage of the campaign.” Podhoretz has given President Bush much the same advice (see Spring 2007).
'Irrational' 'Insanity' - Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blasts the “immorality and illegality” of Podhoretz’s “death wish,” and notes that such “military action would be irrational for both sides. The US military is already stretched to the breaking point. We’d witness unprecedented pandemonium in oil markets. Our troops in Iraq would be endangered.” Vanden Heuvel cites the failure to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles during six weeks of bombings in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After), and the failure of the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor (see June 7, 1981) to curb “regional [nuclear] proliferation.” She concludes, “Podhoretz and his insanity will embolden Iranian hardliners, plunge the region into even greater and darker instability and undermine our security.” [Nation, 10/28/2007]
Giuliani's Stable of Neocons - Since July 2007, Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of outspoken hardline and neoconservative foreign policy advisers (see Mid-July 2007).

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Neoconservative Influence

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