Iraq built the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad with French assistance. When intelligence confirmed Iraq’s intention of producing weapons there, the Israeli government decided to attack. However, the raid would have to occur before the reactor went “hot” so as not to endanger the surrounding community.
Every detail of the mission was planned meticulously. The target was distant: 1,100 km from Israel. Preparations included building target mock-ups and flying full scale dress-rehearsal missions. The aircrews were selected from the cream of the IAFs fighter corps.
The IDF Chief-of-Staff, Lt. Gen. Rafael (Raful) Eitan, briefed the pilots personally. Displaying unusual emotion, he told them: “The alternative is our destruction”.
At 15:55 on June 7, the first F-15 and F-16’s roared off the runway from Etzion Air Force Base in the south. After a tense but uneventful low-level navigation route, the fighters reached their target. They popped up at 17:35 and quickly identified the dome gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight.
Enemy defenses were caught by surprise and opened fire too late. In one minute and twenty seconds, the reactor lay in ruins.
The way home was quiet, bringing the mission to its successful completion. It was a perfectly orchestrated opera conducted by the IAF Commander, Maj. Gen. David Ivry. At least for the present, the atomic genie of Baghdad was put back into his bottle.