The Lessons of Operation Opera

Thirty years ago, on June 7 at 5:31 in the evening, eight Israeli F-16s attacked Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. Within 80 seconds they dropped 16 MK-84 iron bombs. When the last two were released by Ilan Ramon — who would become the first Israeli astronaut and one of the crewmembers killed in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident — the target was already destroyed. An hour later the pilots landed in the Etzion Airbase near Eilat. Operation “Opera,” the first successful raid against a nuclear reactor, came to its end.

Over the next 30 years, perspectives on the raid's necessity and effectiveness have changed radically. In Israel the attack provoked a domestic debate between the Labor Party, which claimed that there was no need at this early stage to carry it out, and the Likud, which claimed that it was a necessity. The successful operation of June 7 contributed significantly to Menachem Begin's electoral victory in the Knesset three weeks later.


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