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10 miracles that happened during the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981

22.01.2023 197 (0)
10 miracles that happened during the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981
10 miracles that happened during the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981

In 1981, on the day before Shavuot, after long and careful preparations, our Air Force succeeded in destroying a nuclear reactor in Iraq during a complex and dangerous military operation. By the grace of the Almighty and by His miracles revealed to us, this incredible mission was completed successfully and without casualties on our part. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the extraordinary event that, with the help of G-d, saved Israel from the terrible danger that threatened its very existence.

The Iraqi reactor was built for its former dictator, Saddam Hussein, the leader of the socialist Baath Party, by the French government, which also provided the Baghdad regime with the necessary uranium for the operation. The reactor was named “Sabaatashr Tamuz” — i.e. the 17th of Tamuz — because that was the day in July (which corresponds to the month of Tamuz in the Iraqi calendar) when the Baath Party came to power in Iraq. In fact, the 17th of Tammuz (“Yud-zayin be-Tammuz”) is a fast established to commemorate a series of misfortunes that were suffered by the Jewish people on that date. Moreover, Saddam Hussein, after all, considered himself no less than the inheritor of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The same one who destroyed the First Temple. In Saddam’s mind, Iraq is supposed to have become a world power, a “new Babylon”.

Israel closely monitored the stages of the Iraqi nuclear project and even, according to foreign publications, was responsible for several acts of sabotage related to the reactor components that delayed its construction. Nevertheless, according to the recollections of Major General Aviezer Yaari, former head of the Analytical Division of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate (AMAN), an interdepartmental team of Mossad, AMAN and other intelligence agencies concluded that all efforts to disrupt the project were only partially successful. Therefore, the government began discussing the possibility of a military attack on the reactor.

The majority of the Israel`s elite opposed such an attack

Many officials of the Israeli establishment were against the attack on the reactor, including Major General Yehoshua Sagi, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Lieutenant General Rafael Eitan, head of the General Staff, even disguised the preparations for the attack from him, out of fear that he would try to sabotage it. Major General Yitzhak Hofi, the head of the Mossad, was also against it, as well as many ministers and politicians. Their position was determined by various considerations, including fear of a possible crisis in US-Israeli relations, the risks and complexity of the operation, concern that it would escalate into a full-scale war with Iraq, Iran and possibly the entire Arab world, and finally, doubts that the resulting attack would never succeed in destroying the Iraqi nuclear project.

Ребе и Менахем Бегин в 1978 году
Ребе и Менахем Бегин в 1978 году

In turn, the deputy heads of the AMAN and the Mossad disagreed with their superiors and, together with a number of other top officers, considered that the attack should be carried out. They assumed that the crisis with the US would not become overly serious after all, and that the Israeli army was quite capable of carrying out the operation successfully, despite its complexity and danger, and that the Arab world could not stand united in a common war, according to their estimates. Moreover, they were convinced that even if the attack did not entirely destroy the Iraqi nuclear project, it would seriously damage it, giving Israel and the world the time necessary to prepare for another more successful attack. Finally, the head of the government, Menachem Begin, decided to carry out a daring attack after all.

“The Ten Wonders”

The chapter of the tractate Pirkei Avot, which is usually read on the Sabbath following the Pesach holiday, says (5:5): “Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in the Holy Temple...”. Based on the information that has been declassified and published in recent years, we can say that ten (or even more) great miracles happened during the attack on the Iraqi reactor as well. Below we will try to describe them in more detail.

The first miracle: an unexpected gift

Initially, our Air Force prepared to attack the reactor with the available Phantom (McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II), a third-generation tactical fighter used at the time. The class of these planes had the excellent characteristics needed to conduct bombing missions. The problem, however, was that, being heavy and twin-engine, they had high fuel consumption, and therefore their use required aerial refueling. This aspect made the upcoming operation very difficult. During those years the USA refused to sell Israel refueling equipment that could be fitted to Boeing aircraft, so the Israeli Air Force had to plan a smaller and much more complicated aerial refueling mission using Hercules transport planes that could carry far less fuel.

However, due to the happening of Islamic Revolution in 1979 in Iran and the collapse of the Shah’s Pahlavi dynasty regime, the United States offered Israel the opportunity to purchase around 72 modern F-16 aircraft, originally intended for Iran! Without the coup in Iran, Israel would have had to wait a long time to receive these quality aircraft from the United States. The Islamic Revolution led to the cancellation of the huge U.S. arms deal with Iran, and as a result, Israel received the cutting-edge aircraft it needed in a very short time.

Летчики-истребители F-16. фото: ChameleonsEye / shutterstock
Летчики-истребители F-16. фото: ChameleonsEye / shutterstock

Israel has made some changes to the F-16s that have increased their range to almost 1,000 km without refueling in the air. One of these changes was the complete rejection of heavy electronic warfare devices (Poody LA). Since this equipment is necessary to protect the aircraft from anti-aircraft systems, abandoning it actually put the pilots at much higher risk. Nevertheless, by the grace of the Almighty, all of our planes ended up returning home safely.

Moreover, the severe weight and fuel restrictions required that we perform what was called “hot refueling” before takeoff, that is, keeping the aircraft connected to the refueling tube until the very last moment before takeoff. This allowed the fuel tanks to be filled, literally to the last drop. Of course, this process is very problematic from a safety point of view, because during refueling the aircraft’s powerful engine is running, and the aircraft is also loaded with a huge amount of weaponry. But here too, by the grace of the Almighty, everything went smoothly.

The second miracle: inattentive observers

The United States stationed “observers” at our air force bases, whose job was to monitor whether Israel was using its planes “properly”. These observers closely monitored all the events and activities taking place there, so the Air Force command was seriously concerned about hiding the many preparations and drills being made in the run-up to the attack on the reactor from the sharp-eyed and unfriendly observers.

Shortly before the operation, the silliest incident occurred that could have easily ruined everything. A high-ranking intelligence officer was carrying a suitcase which suddenly fell out of his hands on the airfield and Iraqi banknotes were scattered in all directions. The money was to be given to the pilots involved in the operation because experts estimated that at least some of them were very likely to be shot down and captured or to end up in enemy territory. The Israeli intelligence officers rushed to collect the flying banknotes, wondering in terror what would happen if the American observers saw all this.

Anyway, eventually none of the American supervisors noticed or suspected anything. After the operation took place, some of them even received a severe warning for their inattention.

The third miracle: the king’s sluggish servants

Perhaps one of the most impressive miracles in this story occurred early in the operation. The air squadron consisted of eight F-16 airplanes that were supposed to bomb the reactor and another six F-15 airplanes that provided air cover and direct escort. The entire group of aircraft flew at a very low altitude so as not to be detected by radar systems. Just a few minutes after takeoff, they flew over the head of King Hussein of Jordan, who was just about to go for a stroll on his luxurious yacht, crossing the Gulf of Eilat...

Израильские самолеты F-16
Израильские самолеты F-16

Many years later, during the signing of the “peace” treaty between Israel and Jordan, King Hussein himself recalled this story.

As a professional military pilot, and in the past even commander of the Jordanian Air Force, the king instantly realized the importance of the large and well-armed squadron of warplanes flying over his head. So he immediately contacted his general staff, ordering them to warn the Iraqi authorities as well. Israeli intelligence picked up and listened to the conversation. A real drama broke out in the underground bunker of the Israeli army general headquarters, where the whole army establishment was present at the time.

It was clear that the lives of our airmen were in great danger. At the same time, from a practical point of view, it was also clear that any attempt to contact them and warn them would reveal their location and direction of approach to a number of other enemy ears. Therefore, obviously, there were only two options left: cancel the operation altogether, or let the squadron continue to the objective without warning. In other words, let them fly straight into the lion’s mouth — against the enemy air force and air defense, which had just received a “high alert warning” of the attack in progress.

And this fateful decision to cancel or continue the operation had to be made, literally in a matter of minutes.

The main problem was that the operation could no longer be postponed. The Iraqi reactor was about to be “loaded” with uranium. Otherwise, it would have become impossible to bomb it, or there would have been a terrible catastrophe with enormous human casualties, estimated at hundreds of thousands of lives.

Lt. Col. Shamai Golan, the reserve lieutenant colonel in charge of intelligence support for the entire operation at the time, later recalled how Chief of General Staff Eitan asked him at this critical moment: “Tell me, will we be able to know when the Iraqis hit the red button, launching planes and activating batteries of anti-aircraft missiles?”

The experienced intelligence officer nodded affirmatively, and after a brief discussion of the situation, Eitan made the hard decision to continue the attack without warning the pilots, despite the enormous risks involved, and relying on intelligence to closely monitor any changes in the enemy air force camp. The Israeli Air Force was in a state of high alert, relying on reconnaissance to closely monitor any changes in the enemy air force, and above all the possible takeoffs of combat planes in the area of the operation.

At the same time, dozens of other Israel Air Force fighters, completely on alert, were waiting only for orders to take off immediately and join the massive air battle that would unfold against the enemy Arab air forces.

The great and amazing miracle was that, despite King Hussein’s warning, not a single Iraqi, Saudi or Jordanian aircraft ever took off to intercept the Israeli planes!

According to Colonel Zeev Raza, the attack commander, he never understood why enemy fighters were not sent to intercept his squadron ... despite the warning from Jordan and despite the fact that, according to Lt. Col. Golan, there was an Iraqi officer in the Jordanian General Staff who was in charge of communications between the two air forces, so the warning could have easily, and should have, reached the Iraqi air force.

This is an amazing miracle, which to this day has no explanation...

The fourth miracle: the invisible squadron

In course of preparations for the operation, Air Force reconnaissance was looking for a place where our squadron could cross the border into Saudi Arabia. However, it soon became clear that the entire border was well covered and controlled by the Saudi military. In other words, the necessary point simply could not be found on the map. Even worse, no route through Saudi Arabia could be found that would guarantee that our planes would not be detected.

Meanwhile, it was known that Saudi Arabia had bought from the United States and put into operation the most modern radar aircraft Awax, capable of detecting air targets at enormous distances — up to 400 km. This meant that the Saudis would be able to detect our squadron and target it with about 60 of their excellent F-15 interceptor aircraft.

It was clear that the risk of a collision between our forces and the air forces of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq was extremely high, especially on the way back. To make sure there was no mistake in detecting the target, it was decided to attack the reactor in broad daylight instead of at night, a fact that made our planes even more likely to be detected.

Nevertheless, despite all the above risks, our squadron was not detected. By the grace and miracles of the Almighty, not a single enemy radar detected our planes, and none of the enemy anti-aircraft batteries fired missiles at them. Even after the reactor was attacked and destroyed!

The fifth miracle: inaccurate map

Some of the data our pilots received from air traffic controllers to correctly navigate to the target was inaccurate due to heavy rain that prevented them from accurately locating, but despite this, the squadron successfully reached the target.

Major General Amos Yadlin, one of the combat pilots involved in the operation at the time, who later held many high positions in the Israeli army, including Commander of the Air Force and head of the Army Intelligence Directorate, recalled that while flying over the Saudi desert he saw military camps and paved roads that were not even mentioned on the maps available to our forces.

Пилот у цели
Пилот у цели

Clearly, the presence of all these military installations, previously unknown to our reconnaissance, greatly increased the risk of detecting a squadron that knew nothing of their existence. Especially since our planes were flying at a very low altitude, what they call “under the radar”, so as not to be seen by the air defense systems. But by the grace of God this did not happen, our squadron’s overflight of Saudi Arabia was not spotted.

In the course of our Air Force preparations for the operation, a thorough study was made to locate all power lines along the squadron’s route so that the pilots could stay clear of them during their flight at a very low altitude to evade radar detection. Nevertheless, near the end of the route, the pilot leading the squadron was forced to “break” the silence on the air, ordering the crews following him to go higher, and thus get caught on radar, because of a suddenly undetected high-voltage line. And yet not a single enemy aircraft was ever lifted in their direction!

Зеэв Раз
Зеэв Раз

Colonel Ze’ev Raz, the pilot who led the entire squadron, recalled that before the flight they had been warned of sandstorms and high cloud cover in the desert that could severely ruin visibility during the flight, but by the grace of the Almighty, visibility all along this section of the route was excellent. It is worth noting that such a long flight at a very low altitude, over unfamiliar terrain, and furthermore, partially built up (as was already the case inside Iraq) and at a high speed is extremely dangerous and has a high risk of accidents of its own.

During that flight, the pilots performed another operation that was forbidden by the manufacturer’s manual and had not been performed by the Air Force until then. They dropped large fuel tanks that hung under the wings of the aircraft and provided it with a significant amount of fuel in addition to the internal fuel tank, while the bombs were also attached to the wings there. The risk of such an operation was quite obvious — the dumped tank could have hit or damaged the bomb. However, in preparation for the operation, it was decided to take the risk. With the help of Heaven, and this extremely risky operation was successful.

The sixth miracle: the defenders who did not show up

From the beginning it was believed that not all of the airmen, God forbid, would be able to return home after the attack. So they all underwent special training and preparation for possible captivity, and received Iraqi money in case they were shot down and had to hide in Iraqi territory.

These fears were due to the fact that 15 Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries were known to be located around the reactor, as well as a large number of anti-aircraft guns. Moreover, the reactor was on the outskirts of Baghdad, the capital, which was surrounded by airfields with many military aircraft.

Because Iraq was in a difficult war with Iran at the time, the planners of the operation were convinced that an air battle with the Iraqi air force on high alert was almost inevitable.

By the way, the Iranians themselves tried to bomb the Iraqi reactor shortly before the Israeli operation. This forced the Iraqis to strengthen their defense of the reactor even more. A high earthen wall was constructed around it, and special anti-aircraft balloons were lifted into the sky above it. And overall, the Iraqi air defense and air force forces were constantly on maximum alert, protecting the nuclear reactor.

Somehow, by the wonders of the Almighty, hardly any anti-aircraft missiles were fired at our planes in the end! The anti-aircraft guns fired extremely weakly, and not a single enemy aircraft attempted to intercept them!

As a result, all of our planes were able to attack the reactor without interference from enemy anti-aircraft fire.

On the way back, when our pilots reported this, the dispatchers at General Headquarters were so stunned by such happy news that they asked again whether the report that everyone had succeeded in their mission and were returning home unharmed was really accurate...

Some airmen later recalled how they turned on their radar systems in Iraq and when they saw that there were no enemy fighters in the area, they could hardly believe the radar data, which showed a clear sky and no enemy planes.

Colonel Zeev Raz also later admitted that he thought at the time that his radar had simply been out of order and not working properly.

As he said, according to all the preliminary calculations carried out in Israel, even though the planes were flying at a low altitude, the Iraqi radar should have detected them many kilometers before the target. So the pilots were sure the Iraqi fighters would be waiting for them over Baghdad. Especially since Iraq was at war with Iran, and so Israel was convinced of the presence of Iraqi air defense in the skies over the capital.

One way or another, all that did not happen. Miraculously, just when the Israeli planes reached Baghdad, there were no Iraqi planes in the air!

Later, when the whole squadron landed in Israel, the airmen who were getting out of the cockpits were hugging each other for a long time — they were sure that most of them would not come back from that operation alive.

The seventh miracle: the bombs that didn’t work

Another incredible miracle was discovered after studying the results of the reactor bombing. Some of the bombs did not hit the reactor at all, and two more bombs penetrated but did not explode. At first, this was simply considered a failure. Even though the reactor was eventually destroyed anyway.

Over the years, however, the wonders of divine providence became clear: the bombs that were thought to have “missed” actually hit other buildings near the reactor, devastating them inevitably. It turned out that these buildings were part of Italian laboratories set up to help Iraq obtain plutonium for nuclear weapons... In other words, the destruction of these laboratories also dealt a huge blow to the Iraqi nuclear project.

Бомбежка реактора
Бомбежка реактора

The bombs that did not explode, which remained deep within the reactor, prevented the reactor from being rebuilt for many years. Scientists and engineers were simply afraid to start clearing the debris with two bombs weighing a ton each inside.....

These amazing miracles were not revealed to us until a long time later. As our sages say, “What does it mean that God ‘does wondrous things alone’? It means that even the one for whom the miracle was performed does not recognize the miracle that was performed for him.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nida 31:1).

The Eighth Miracle: No Enemy Encountered

On the way back our pilots had a long flight of one and a half hours over enemy territory. And that was after they had bombed the reactor, i.e. when they lost the advantage of surprise. In other words, it was quite clear that they would be chased by enemy fighters, and the enemy anti-aircraft batteries would try to shoot them down. And this would be the case throughout the flight over Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

However, as a result, no aircraft attempted to intercept them, and no air defense systems fired anti-aircraft missiles at them!

According to some sources, there were Israeli rescue helicopters on Iraqi territory at the time, ready to evacuate pilots who would be shot down. There were four F-15 interceptor planes and a Hokai control plane flying over the Arava Desert, ready to help in the event of an air battle.

In addition, six more F-15 plains providing close air support for the operation also flew high altitude patrols over Iraqi airfields. Nevertheless, by the grace and miracle of the Almighty, not a single enemy fighter got off the ground.

It should be noted that the small amount of fuel in the attacking squadron’s tanks initially deprived our planes of good maneuverability in air combat if they were drawn into it. They could not, in fact, use the afterburner, which provides the aircraft with great power but consumes an enormous amount of fuel, and their enemies would undoubtedly take advantage of this opportunity, giving them a tremendous advantage.

Note that the number of close escort aircraft (six F-15 aircraft) was negligible compared to the hundreds of Iraqi, Jordanian and Saudi fighters who could have intervened in the battle.

The ninth miracle: the malfunctions that didn’t happen

This amazing phenomenon was noted by all the pilots without exception — during the entire long flight (three hours — there and back), not a single malfunction occurred or was found on every single airplane!

После бомбежки
После бомбежки

Colonel Zeev Raz later recalled that many of the malfunctions began to “pop up” and show up only after landing, as inevitably happens in combat aircraft consisting of hundreds of thousands of parts and operating under conditions of weight overloads and heavy maneuvering loads. By the way, the fact that we were talking about new aircraft only added to the pre-flight concerns about the various malfunctions that could arise from the lack of technical and operational knowledge of the aircraft, as well as the fact that modern weapon systems usually suffer from “baby diseases” — that is, various technical failures due to the fact that it was new, unfamiliar and still unfamiliar equipment.

To cut a long story short, there were serious concerns about possible malfunctions that could happen to the planes during such a long flight over enemy territory, when landing and asking for help was simply not an option.

Thank G-d, as has been said, none of the planes had any technical failures during the entire long flight!

The tenth miracle: unreliable assessments

All the assessments of the heads of the Defence Intelligence Agency and the Mossad and other high-ranking officers that the attack on the reactor would lead to a full scale war in the Middle East, that relations between Israel and the US would be severely damaged, etc., by the grace and miracles of G-d, were totally untrue.

Moreover, the operation itself has been described as “one of the greatest military surprises in history,” and its complete success, surpassing all expectations. Despite a series of vigorous criticisms in the United States and Europe, many countries “unofficially” supported the attack. Ten years later, during the 1991 Gulf War, they publicly acknowledged the success and importance of the Israeli operation when it became clear that without destroying the reactor, one would have to face a regime armed with nuclear weapons that would obviously be infinitely more difficult to deal with.

An unnatural success

The pilot in charge of the attacking squadron, Colonel Ze’ev Raz, recalled that for years he had wondered about the incredible success of the operation, until he finally heard from Gidi Sharon (a former F-16 pilot and shliach of the Rebbe King Moshiach SHLITA in the Galilee town of Kiryat Tivon), that on the holy Sabbath, on the eve of the operation on Sunday afternoon before the holiday of Shavuot, the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach SHLITA ordered a whole series of actions “for the Redemption of many,” most notably the buying of letters in the Sefer Torah (when the donor pays to write a letter in a new Torah scroll). And this was a continuation of the requests of the Rebbe, who during the preceding weeks called for more efforts in teshuva, tefilah, and tzedakah, etc. because of “the situation in the world” and for the sake of "disarming and destroying

Рав Гиди Шарон
Рав Гиди Шарон

The pilot in charge of the attacking squadron, Colonel Ze’ev Raz, recalled that for years he had wondered about the incredible success of the operation, until he finally heard from Gidi Sharon (a former F-16 pilot and envoy of the King Moshiach Rebbe in the Galilee town of Kiryat Tivon), that on the holy Sabbath, on the eve of the operation on Sunday afternoon before the holiday of Shavuot, the Rebbe ordered a whole series of actions “for the redemption of many,” most notably the sale of letters of the Torah (when the donor pays to write a letter in a new Torah scroll). And this was a continuation of the requests of the Rebbe, who during the preceding weeks called for more efforts in teshuva, tefilah, and tzedakah, etc. because of “the situation in the world” and for the sake of “disarming and taking vengeance on the enemy.”

Moreover, the Rebbe then requested that all Chassidim send to him in New York detailed descriptions of all such actions that they had committed, and that all these reports arrive to him no later than Sunday, the eve of Shavuot!

This was an extraordinary demand

The Chabad followers realized that for some unknown reason they had to act as soon as possible, and despite the need to prepare for the holiday, they massively went out to the streets, fulfilling the Rebbe’s command.

In the settlement of Kfar Chabad, where the author lives, everyone remembers well that on that Sunday morning there were hardly any “minyan” (meetings of ten Jewish men praying together) in the synagogues — everyone got up, prayed as early as possible and hurried to the towns and villages around, so that they could sell as many letters in the Torah scrolls as possible and send the Rebbe their work report as quickly as possible...

Only when the attack on the Iraqi reactor became known (which, in the words of then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, “removed the threat of a second Shoah”) did the Rebbe’s words become clear, his instructions to act quickly and without delay on the eve of the holiday and especially his unusual demand to receive reports before the start of the holiday — that is, in the hours when the attack took place that eliminated the terrible nuclear threat, which was accompanied by a chain of amazing, incredible miracles, and ended without casualties and without any incidents — a complete success that surpassed all estimates of the army command...

In addition to the Rebbe’s actions described above, the Rebbe is also known to have given Rabbi Menachem-Mendel Gorelik 100 bills of one Israeli shekel to distribute along with a blessing among the IDF officers a few weeks before the operation.

As far as is known, this was the only time that the Rebbe ordered the distribution of blessing bills specifically to IDF officers. When Rabbi Gorelik arrived in Israel, he gave them to R. Menachem Lehrer of Kfar Chabad, who managed to get to the general staff meeting, where he distributed the banknotes to the Chief of the General Staff, the Air Force Commander and other IDF generals who were present, who in turn wrote a congratulatory letter to the Rebbe, signing his name, his mother’s name and his last name.

In addition, Mr. Lehrer also distributed additional bank bills to officers and pilots at Tel Nofah Air Force Base, where soldiers also wrote congratulations to the Rebbe. It only remains to be noted that it was from this base that a significant portion of the planes involved in the operation flew out...

The Eternal Protection of the Almighty

“He who performed miracles for our ancestors” — surely performs miracles for us as well... The chain of amazing miracles that occurred during the attack on the Iraqi reactor reveals to us the love of G-d who blesses us and His constant protection of the people of Israel, and as the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach SHLITA repeatedly stressed: “Behold the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” and “the Land of Israel is the safest place in the world”!

And so, indeed, we see with our own eyes the miracles revealed to us — both in the almost complete reduction, thank G-d, of the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, and in Operation Guardian of the Walls, and finally in the continued weakening of our enemies around us.

Our Role

Two weeks before the nuclear attack (Iyar 19), the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach SHLITA directly drew his attention to the danger of nuclear weapons, observing: “The state of the world is such that one madman can come ... and cause destruction and ruin throughout the world with the push of a button! ...and it is only by the grace of God that it does not happen that such a madman pushes a button and brings destruction and ruin ... and the question naturally arises: why did G-d arrange things this way?! And here is the answer: the fall requires an uplift — for the Jews to wake up and increase the Torah and the commandments...”

It is clear from these words of the Rebbe that our role is to multiply the Torah and the commandments, because in doing so we strengthen the security of the people of Israel and the security of the entire world.

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