FIRST STRIKE: The Exclusive Story of How Israel Foiled Iraq's Attempt to Get the Bomb by Shlomo Nakdimon

FIRST STRIKE: The Exclusive Story of How Israel Foiled Iraq's Attempt to Get the Bomb

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On June 7, 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad; according to the Jewish state's intelligence sources, the installation would soon have given Iraq an atomic-weapons capability. Journalist Nakdimon here makes what sounds very much like the official case for the brilliantly executed preemptive strike, which triggered dangerous fallout during the Reagan Administration's rookie year. Acknowledging at the outset that former Prime Minister Menahem Begin endorsed the project, Nakdimon discloses his manuscript was vetted by several principals, including the Air Force general in direct command of the raid. At any rate, the author traces events back to 1962, when Iraq acquired a small research reactor from Russia. Subsequently, he recounts, strongman Saddam Hussain traded on France's desire for secure Mideast oil supplies to obtain larger units. On much the same basis, Brazil was persuaded to provide uranium, while Italy agreed to furnish so-called hot cells able to extract plutonium from spent fuel rods. By the spring of 1979, ""it was becoming increasingly clear to Israel that military action against the (Iraqi) reactor was unavoidable."" Begin briefed senior officials, and planning began. As Nakdimon makes clear, however, consensus is a word without much meaning in the lexicon of Israeli politics, and fierce infighting ensued. Eventually, the mission was launched barely one month before the reactor was scheduled to go on line, creating the risk of radioactive emissions in the wake of a bombing. Though the raid itself proved an almost anticlimactic milk run, there were worldwide aftershocks. In the immediate aftermath, for example, the US (much to Jerusalem's vocal outrage) felt obliged to delay delivery of some F-16 jet fighters, and there were typically censorious debates at the UN. Despite a wealth of obviously authorized detail, Nakdimon's version of the affair is not wholly credible or convincing. He glosses quickly over two possible instances of Mossad's handiwork--an explosion at a Toulon plant that set back the 1979 reactor delivery by about six months and the 1980 murder of a member of Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission in a Paris hotel. In like vein, he does not mention, let alone probe, his own country's nuclear-weapons complex at Dimona. Without exception, moreover, Israel's adversaries, as well as Begin's critics and political foes, are portrayed as misguided, unprincipled, or worse. So, overall, an intriguing but stridently partisan account of an international incident whose circumstances six years after remain decidedly ambiguous.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster