Author: Rodger W. Claire
Publisher: Broadway Books, division of Random House, New York, N.Y.
Rodger Claire, who was an editor of Los Angeles magazine when he began his research on Israel’s “Operation Babylon,” has written this history of one of the most fascinating episodes in history. The book includes many previously unknown details which even many of the participants were unaware of!
In his aim and motivation to become the leader and dictator of the middle East, Saddam Hussein began an ambitious program to develop a nuclear bomb at al-Tuwaitha, a site just southeast of Baghdad, on the northeast shore of Bahr al Milk Lake. The reactor program was developed with assistance from the French and the Italians, who had been promised cheap Iraqi oil contracts at least ten years into the future – as well as the extremely lucrative contracts to build the facilities.
Menachem Begin, then Prime Minister of Israel, had absolutely no compunctions against using the highly developed Israel military resources to put an end to Hussein’s nuclear ambitions.
Claire not only relates the military story – but also the political and diplomatic stories that enfolded before and after the June 7th, 1981, Israeli bombing raid on the Iraqi reactor.
For over two decades, most of the details were highly classified. Even the names of the Israeli pilots who saved the nation from nuclear annihilation weren’t released. But one day, a chance encounter between Claire and a contact who was employed at one of Southern California’s defense contractors jump-started his research, and the result was this book, whose narrative reads like a fast-paced novel.
Perhaps it was the United States’ enormous defense industry establishment that developed the newest weaponry – but it was always the Israelis who pushed the envelope to develop the fullest capability.
After Ayatollah Khomeini fomented a revolution in neighboring Iran, causing unrest among Iraq’s Shiite population, the United States canceled Iran’s standing order for over 75 new F-16 fighter jet aircraft, which were being manufactured by General Dynamics. Saddam Hussein was becoming a client state of the West in the need to balance the situation, but his air force and military hardware had already previously been established by the USSR.
When the first dozen F-16s came off the assembly line after the Iranian purchase was canceled, the planes were offered to Israel, which welcomed the opportunity to possess the world’s most modern state-of-the-art fighter aircraft.
The plan to “take-out” Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor required a 1,200-mile round-trip flight at ground-hugging altitude, to fly beneath Iraqi, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian radar. Israel was faced with the problem that the mileage to Iraq was at least 20-25% more distance on a thankful of jet fuel that the planes were rated at. Moreover, the U.S. export controls prevented delivery of the necessary auxiliary fuel tanks needed for the mission. Finally, with a full complement of on-board armaments and equipment, the F-16s were almost too heavy to take off from the military airfield in Sinai.
A prior mission date of May 10th was postponed because word leaked to Begin’s political rival, Shimon Peres, the former defense minister, who objected to the mission. Peres, like many others in the government, were dovish, and felt that not enough opportunity was being given to diplomatic efforts.
The photos of the bombed-out nuclear reactor were taken by the United State’s KH-11 top-secret reconnaissance satellite. When they were processed, the results of the Israeli raid were truly amazing. All of the eight F-16s, save one, performed the most accurate on-the-button bombing that the world had ever seen, causing a mushroom cloud to entirely destroy the nuclear reactor building and level its supporting structures – but nothing else in the compound. It was a razor-sharp encounter designed to minimize any civilian casualties – especially those of the French and Italian nuclear contractor employees, most of whom were known not to be working at the site that Sunday. Indeed, only one Frenchman died in the conflagration.
We can add this courageous episode to Israel’s daring military exploits. This saga brings a clearer understanding of Israel’s constant need for military training and re-training as well as industrial efficiency at maintaining superior armaments for its military. “Rain On The Sun” chronicles the gripping detail, with all of the behind-the-scenes arms deals, international political games, near disastrous pilot error, and heroic sacrifice.
Claire’s account is an action-packed story of courage in the face of relentless danger and a testament to the bravery and commitment of the men who risked everything for their country.
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