1981- Israel Destroys Iraqi Reactor

One of the F-16's that took part in the raid

Israel had made it clear that it would not allow any neighboring Arab state to acquire nuclear reactors. Iraq purchased a nuclear reactor from France. The French and Iraqis claimed the reactor was for civilian purposes, but Israel believed it would be used to produce nuclear weapons. On June 7th, 1981 a month before the reactor was to go "critical" Israel launched a long-range air attack against the reactor and destroyed it..

Iraq began a nuclear research program in the 1960s. It actively sought to purchase a reactor for the program from both the Italians and the French. The Iraqis were able to convince the French in 1976 to sell them an Osiris research reactor. Both the French and the Iraqis were claimed that the plant was designed for peaceful purposes only. Israel did not believe that and was convinced that the plant was going to used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. The United States shared Israeli concerns. During the Iran Iraq War, the Iranians bombed the control facilities of the plant but did not destroy the plant itself.

Israel developed a plan to destroy the plant from the air. Baghdad, where the plant was located, was at the edge of the operational envelope of Israel's F16s and F15's. With the plant expected to be fueled within a few months thus making any attack impossible the Israeli cabinet led by Prime Minister Begin approved the mission in April.

On June 7th, 1981 Israeli F-15's and F16 took off heading to Iraq. The F-15 were being used to cover the flight while the F-16 carried the fuel. The planes flew over parts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, entering Iraq from the Saudi border where there was a gap in radar coverage. The aircraft flew low over the Iraqi desert to avoid being discovered on radar. As they neared the plant, the F-16's climbed to 6,900 feet and began a dive at the plant. At 3,600 feet the planes released their Mark 84 bombs. Eight of the sixteen weapons hit its target, and the plant was effectively destroyed. The F-16 pilots were Ze' ev Raz, Amos Yadlin, Dobbi Yaffe, Hagai Katz, Amir Nachumi, Iftach Spector, Relik Shafir, and Ilan Ramon. Ramon who was the youngest went on to become Israel's first astronaut who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster.

The world condemned the Israeli attack.