Back to the video list: Israeli History


The Iraq ran a military nuclear programme during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This constituted a direct threat to Israel. Therefore, the Israeli government authorized the Operation Opera. on 17 June 1981 the Israeli Air Force destroyed the reactor Osirak and averted the Iraqi nuclear threat.






  • Date: 17 Jun 1981
  • Location: Bagdad, Iraq
  • Event: Destruction of the Iraqi reactor Osirak by an Israeli air strike


Parties & Persons Involved

  • Israel, esp. Israeli Air Force
  • Iraq
  • France (Development & construction of the Iraqi reactor Osirak)



  • Iraq strives to be the leading power in the Arab world
  • Iraq runs a military nuclear programme (officially not classified as militarily by Iraq):
    • 1959 – 1975: Co-operation with the Soviet Union
    • From 1975: Co-operation with France
  • From 1977 conservative government in Israel (prime minister Begin)
  • Iraq poses a clear & present danger to Israel
  • First phase of the Iran-Iraq War (22 Sep 1980 – 20 Aug 1988)



The Iraqi Nuclear Programme

  • 1975/76: Agreement on a nuclear co-operation between France & Iraq
  • 1979: Construction of the reactor Osirak commences (Iraqi name Tammuz = Babylonian month in which the Ba‘ath party took over power in 1968)
  • 1980: France ships 12.5 kg highly enriched uranium to Iraq
  • 1976 – 1979: Israel, supported by the U.S., fails with diplomatic efforts to stop France & Italy constructing the Iraqi reactor


Preparing Operation Opera

  • 1979: Israeli decision for a pre-emptive strike
  • 1979/80: Alleged Mossad operations:
    • Destruction of reactor parts by an explosion
    • Assassination of Yehia El-Mashad (nuclear scientist)
  • 30 Sep 1980: Unsuccessful Iranian air attack on the reactor during the Iran-Iraq War (22 Sep 1980 – 20 Aug 1988)
  • 30 Nov 1980: The Iranian air force takes photographs of the reactor & which are allegedly delivered to Israel
  • 1980/81: Israeli reconnaissance missions discover gaps in the Iraqi radar coverage
  • 04 Apr 1981: Iranian air strikes lead to a substantial loss of Iraqi air power


Executing Operation Opera

  • 07 Jun 1981 – 15.55: Operation Opera commences with the liftoff of 8 F-16 (attack) & 6 F-15 (fighter cover) from Etzion Airbase
  • 07 Jun 1981 – after 15.55: Israeli jets approach Iraqi airspace via Jordan & Saudi-Arabia
  • 07 Jun 1981 –18:35: Israeli F-16s bomb the reactor & destroy it within 2 minutes
  • 07 Jun 1981 – after 18:37: Return of all Israeli jets to Etzion Airbase


Consequences & Impact

  • Iraq:
    • Significant delay of the Iraqi nuclear programme
    • Saddam Hussein orders the execution of the commander & officers of the western air defence sector
  • Israel:
    • Israel averts the short-term & medium-term danger of Iraq
    • The reputation of the Israel Defence Forces, esp. the Israeli Air Force grows
    • Begin wins the 1981 election (esp. because the leader of the opposition Peres criticises the operation)
    • Israel is under diplomatic pressure (see below)
  • International:
    • International community (publicly) condemns the operation because of the violation of Iraqi airspace; but also covert approval, esp. in the Arab world
    • More states initiate clandestine programmes of developing weapons of mass destruction
    • Proof that pre-emptive strikes can still be very effective but also bring diplomatic problems in the aftermath