Seeking to thwart Iraqi nuclear program, Israel bombed French warehouse, book says – Middle East Monitor
The Mossad attempted to sabotage Iraq’s nuclear program in violation of French sovereignty, Israeli nuclear engineer Michael Ron said in his recently published memoir. Ron details the failed attempt by the occupying states to prevent late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from securing the material needed to develop an Iraqi nuclear weapons program. The setback resulted in a change of course which led to the 1981 air strike which destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor, built in France.
Ron, now 89, was one of the top scientists at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center, which is run under the auspices of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). Details of Israel’s mission to sabotage Iraq’s nuclear program, codenamed Operation Opera, were recounted in his Hebrew memoir ‘The quiet Sabra ‘. Haaretz published a lengthy article using Ron’s mission narrative, highlighting Israel’s failure to contain Saddam Hussein despite a controversial attack on French sovereignty by bombing a facility housing parts for Iraq’s nuclear program.
A series of failures preceded the 1981 Israeli airstrike on the Osirak nuclear reactor. Between 1974 and 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yigal Allon allegedly used open and secret diplomacy to try to influence Italy, Brazil and other countries. and in particular France, demanding that they stop helping Hussein in his nuclear program.
With the election of Menachem Begin in 1977, Israel changed tack and embarked on a plan to sabotage Iraq’s nuclear program at its source by attacking French-made parts. The Mossad had obtained fairly precise information from most of the French companies and others involved in the planning and construction of the Iraqi installation. The Mossad also reportedly succeeded in enlisting a number of Iraqi engineers and physicists who traveled to France on occasion for further training or to purchase equipment.
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In 1979, Israel launched an operation in the town of La Seyne-sur-Mer, France, on the Mediterranean coast west of Toulon. The targets were warehouses belonging to a company specializing in the manufacture of parts for ships and nuclear reactors. The plan called for a series of explosions to destroy cores of giant tanks destined for the reactor in Iraq and supposed to be loaded onto a ship bound for that country a few days later. The explosions would have severely damaged, but not completely destroyed the tank as the Mossad had expected.
It is suggested that Israel tried to cover up the plot because an hour after the explosion, an anonymous caller told French newspapers that an unknown organization of “green” environmental activists had taken responsibility for the sabotage. French intelligence did not purchase this account and suspected the informant was someone from Mossad’s psychological warfare and disinformation division.