Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lapidot - Rewriting history

Aharon Lapidot..
Israel Hayom..
28 February '12..

This week we commemorate 20 years since the passing of Menachem Begin. Channel 2’s senior commentator, Amnon Abramovich, took the opportunity this week in particular to poke holes in one of the late prime minister’s most accomplished military operations: the June 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Abramovich said (and I paraphrase) that it wasn’t our air force that put an end to Iraq’s nuclear program, but rather the American invasion of Iraq 10 years later (Operation Desert Storm in 1991). He went so far as to say that the attack on Osirak backfired against Israel, leading to international condemnation and even achieving the opposite of Israel’s goal because Iraq actually accelerated its nuclear armament as a result.

First, the facts: After the attack, Iraq never successfully developed nuclear weapons. The reactor destroyed by the air force was never rebuilt. Iraq had aimed to do so. France hesitantly agreed to help, but political and funding problems shelved the plans. During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. merely bombed the reactor’s dusty ruins, which had stood undisturbed for a decade.

Then U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney even sent a satellite photo of the bombed-out nuclear installation to Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. David Ivry, who had commanded the attack on the Iraqi reactor. The message read, “With thanks and appreciation, you made our mission in Desert Storm easier.”

So what happened? Abramovich based his analysis, apparently, on the testimony of a few Iraqi scientists (such as Khidir Hamza), who have claimed that after the Israeli attack an enraged Saddam Hussein ordered that his country’s nuclear program become military and covert, and that uranium be enriched using centrifuges. A few such centrifuges were indeed found in Iraq. The Iraqi nuclear program, however, was for all intents and purposes, dead. Not so much as the tail-end of a single bomb was produced. Saddam instead invested his efforts in Canadian scientist Gerald Bull’s Super-Gun project, enhancing the range and accuracy of his Scud missile arsenal, as well as developing chemical weapons, which were never employed in the First Gulf War.

Following the Second Gulf War – which aimed to neutralize weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had allegedly amassed in his warehouses – everyone involved, from President George W. Bush on down, was forced to admit in retrospect that no trace of such weapons could be found.

As for the condemnations, Israel was in fact censured from all directions, including from the U.N. and even the U.S, which had been left out of the operational loop and was caught off guard. The U.S. secretary of state went so far as to reportedly say, “Begin must have lost control of his senses.” Perhaps the sting of such remarks can be soothed if we remind ourselves that the person making them, Caspar Weinberger, was not exactly a true lover of Israel, and is responsible for Jonathan Pollard rotting in prison to this day.

Regardless, the only practical repercussions of these condemnations – and let’s be honest, Israel would have been rebuked even for air-dropping fine Swiss chocolate on the Iraqi reactor – amounted to a few months’ delay in the shipment of new F-16 fighter jets to Israel.

In 2005, former U.S. President Bill Clinton finally offered an honest assessment of the attack: “Looking back, I think Israel did a very good thing when it bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak,” he said.


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