by Rodger W. Claire
New York: Broadway Books, 2004. Pp. xx, 259.
Illus., map, notes, index. $24.95. ISBN:0-7679-1400-7
In Raid on the Sun
, Rodger Claire gives the reader the first detailed look at the chain of events that led to the controversial raid by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in June 1981, an event that now takes on special significance given the rumors swirling around the Middle East about possible Israeli plans to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.
The book gives powerful support to the idea that the international arms trade is a snake pit filled with well-trained liars in Armani suits. In case the reader is unaware, the Osirak reactor was supplied to Saddam Hussein by the French in exchange for large quantities of cheap Iraqi oil. As part of the 1975 reactor deal, the French also agreed to supply the Iraqis with one hundred Mirage F-1 fighter aircraft and one more item that badly jangled nerves in Tel Aviv, 72 kilograms of enriched weapons-grade uranium 235. Orchestrating the deal for the French was then Premier Jacques Chirac, the current French president and arch-nemesis of the Bush administration. The book even contains a photograph of Saddam Hussein and the future French president chatting amiably on a couch.
But putting revelations of international greed and sleaziness aside, the real heart of Claire’s work is the detailed descriptions he gives of Israel’s efforts over a six-year period to delay and finally destroy the crown jewel among Saddam Hussein’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
For the Israelis, destroying the reactor after it had already been built in Iraq was not the first option. Initially, the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, attempted a campaign of sabotage in an effort to halt the reactor’s construction. Israeli agents bombed the Osirak reactor’s core assembly as it sat inside a French warehouse. After the bombing, French police received phone calls from a terrorist group claiming responsibility for the attack; a group that surfaced for one appearance only.
Assassination walked arm-in-arm with the sabotage campaign. Claire documents the murder of three Iraqi nuclear scientists by Israeli agents while they were working and living in Western Europe. One Iraqi scientist was found in a Paris hotel room with his throat cut, while the other two men died of mysterious cases of “food poisoning.”
Another victim of the Mossad was a French prostitute. The woman had been employed indirectly by the Mossad in an unsuccessful attempt to subvert the Iraqi scientist later found murdered in his hotel. Two days before the woman was supposed to meet with French authorities to be questioned about the scientist’s death, she was run down in the middle of the street by a black Mercedes moving at high speed.
But all these machinations on the part of the Mossad only slowed progress on the Osirak reactor, and by mid-1980 preparations for the daring raid had shifted into high-gear. The author, who was given unprecedented access by the Israeli government to the pilots who actually flew the mission, and to the people who helped plan it, manages to give the reader a comprehensive look at the tightly knit, intensely professional world of the Israeli Air Force.
The planes used for the actual bombing mission were General Dynamics F-16s. When the IAF began planning the Osirak raid in the late 1970s, the F-16 was a state-of-the-art flying machine. But even with the advanced capabilities the F-16, Israeli planners had to shoehorn the aircraft to fit the main mission requirement, which was to fly to the outskirts of Baghdad and return without the luxury of in-air refueling. Israeli technicians stripped the F-16s of their ECM pods, in-flight refueling gear, and four out of six of their Sidewinder missiles in order to give the single-seat fighters the necessary range to fly to Osirak and back. Israeli engineers grappled with the range problem for months, but it was only solved when the United States agreed to sell the Israelis twelve centerline<