Iran Watch: The myth behind Israel's attack on Osiraq

Iran Watch, part 5 - a response to some nonsense from Guido Fawkes.

Iran Watch, part 5 - a response to some nonsense from Guido Fawkes.

In a tweet to me this morning, libertarian blogger and Iran-war-agitator Paul Staines (aka "Guido Fawkes") claimed:

@ns_mehdihasan Israel bombed Saddam's nuclear reactor and ended his nuclear ambitions. Thank God.

I once told Staines that he should stick to blogging about bond markets and deficits and stay away from foreign affairs and, in particular, the Middle East. I wish he'd taken my advice.

"Ended his nuclear ambitions", eh? Staines is referring to the Israeli bombing of Saddam Hussein's Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981 - codenamed "Operation Babylon". He couldn't be more wrong about the fallout from that now-notorious "preventive" attack on Iraq - and the lessons that we should learn from it now, three decades on, in relation to Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

Professor Richard Betts of Columbia University is one of America's leading experts on nuclear weapons and proliferation. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to the CIA and the National Security Council. Here he is writing in the National Interest in 2006:

Contrary to prevalent mythology, there is no evidence that Israel's destruction of Osirak delayed Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The attack may actually have accelerated it.

...Obliterating the Osirak reactor did not put the brakes on Saddam's nuclear weapons program because the reactor that was destroyed could not have produced a bomb on its own and was not even necessary for producing a bomb. Nine years after Israel's attack on Osirak, Iraq was very close to producing a nuclear weapon.

Here's Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and an expert on weapons of mass destruction, writing in the Huffington Post in May 2010:

The Israeli attack triggered Iraq's determined pursuit of nuclear weapons. In September 1981, three months after the strike, Iraq established a well-funded clandestine nuclear weapons program. This had a separate organization, staff, ample funding and a clear mandate from Saddam Hussein. As the nuclear weapons program went underground the international community lost sight of these activities and had no influence on the Iraqi nuclear calculus.

And here's Emory University's Dan Reiter, an expert on national security and international conflict, writing in The Nonproliferation Review in July 2005:

Paradoxically, the Osiraq attack may have actually stimulated rather than inhibited the Iraqi nuclear program. The attack itself may have persuaded Saddam to accelerate Iraqi efforts to become a nuclear weapons power. . . Following Osiraq, the entire Iraqi nuclear effort moved underground, as Saddam simultaneously ordered a secret weapons program that focused on uranium separation as a path to building a bomb.

. . . In short, before the Osiraq attack, both the French and the IAEA opposed the weaponization of Iraq's nuclear research program, and had a number of instruments to constrain weaponization, including control over, including control over reactor fuel supply and multiple and continuous inspections. After the Osiraq attack, the program became secret, Saddam's personal and material commitment to the program grew, and the non-proliferation tools available to the international community became ineffective.

[Hat-tip: MediaMatters]

Then there's the Duelfer Report, released by the Iraq Survey Group in 2004 (and praised by the neoconservatives!), which admitted that

Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor spurred Saddam to build up Iraq's military to confront Israel in the early 1980s.

Oh, and there's also the well-informed Bob Woodward, who wrote in his book State of Denial:

Israeli intelligence were convinced that their strike in 1981 on the Osirak nuclear reactor about 10 miles outside Baghdad had ended Saddam's program. Instead [it initiated] covert funding for a nuclear program code-named 'PC3' involving 5.000 people testing and building ingredients for a nuclear bomb.

So the clear lesson from Osiraq is the exact opposite of what Staines and others on the pro-Israeli, bomb-Iran, chickenhawk right want us to believe: bombing Iran's nuclear facilities is likely to increase, not decrease, the prospect of an illicit Iranian nuclear weapons programme. So far, there is no evidence of such a programme - see the IAEA's last report - but an illegal Israeli or American air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would give the Iranian government the perfect excuse to take its nuclear programme underground, out of sight and out of reach. Don't take my word for it - here's the former CIA director Michael Hayden speaking in January:

When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent -- an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.

On a related note, the Osiraq attack was followed, as I noted in an earlier blogpost, by a UN Security Council Resolution which condemned the Israeli government and called upon it "urgently to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards" - something Messrs Netanyahu and Barak continue to refuse to do. Why don't we ever talk about this particular aspect of the 1981 raid?

On an unrelated note, Staines and co continue to try and label opponents of military action as "friends of Ahmadinejad" - despite the fact that these include, among others, the afore-mentioned former director of the CIA as well as the ex-head of Mossad. It's a cheap, smear tactic to try and close down debate on this all-important, life-and-death issue and is a perfect reflection of how poor and weak the hawks' arguments are.

Finally, if you haven't read it yet, please read and share Harvard University professor Stephen Walt's excellent and informed blogpost on the "top ten media failures in the Iran war debate" and Israeli novelist David Grossman's Guardian column on how "an attack on Iran will bring certain disaster, to forestall one that might never come".

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The legal loophole forcing pregnant women out of work

Zero-hours contracts are eroding hard-won maternity rights.

In the last ten years, we have seen a feminist revival, a comprehensive Equality Act and the second female British prime minister in history. Women are making progress. 

That is, unless you’re a pregnant woman. A 2015 study found more new and expectant mothers reporting discrimination in the workplace than they had in 2005. More women said they were made redundant or felt forced to leave their job. Three-quarters had a negative experience at work because of their pregnancy.

But the offices of Britain slowly retreating into the smoke-filled fug of the seventies, where female workers spent the day dodging wandering hands. A report by the Women and Equalities select committee suggests this is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. 

When it comes to rights at work, some pregnant women are more equal than others. Those most likely to report a risk to their health at work were those working in poorly-paid sectors like caring, and those in unstable employment, such as zero-hours contracts. 

This is enshrined in the law. Women working for agencies or on zero-hours contracts do not have the same pregnancy and maternity entitlements as those who are classed as employees.  According to some legal and professional opinions, they have no rights at all. 

Fair enough, you might say. If a temp announces her pregnancy halfway through a four-week stint, it’s a bit much to expect her temporary employer to cough up. She’s chosen a more flexible form of employment in the first place. 

The problem is, increasingly it’s not a choice. Over the last ten years, according to Citizens Advice, there has been a 58 per cent increase in people taking temporary jobs “because they are unable to find permanent work”. 

The influence of contract type means that, even within the same glossy corporate building, two pregnant women can experience utterly different treatment. Scarlet Harris of the TUC told the committee: “In some larger employers you will see good practices happening among professional women at the top, but they might be large organisations with women agency workers working lower down who are not afforded the same rights at all and are treated very differently.”

Despite their contracts, temporary workers often do continue to work for the same company for months on end. On Mumsnet, a forum, women on zero-hours contracts discussed when to reveal the news to their employer. One user wrote: 

“I was on a zero-hour contract working for the company for six years. [I] have had a few different contracts over the years, and had a quite physical and sometimes dangerous job so had to tell my boss really early. 

"I was eventually given no hours at all in the time they count maternity pay from.”

The woman, who had worked 14 hours a day at times, had to rely on using up her paid holidays, and statutory maternity pay. She did not return to her job.

In theory, zero-hours contract workers who resemble full-time employees can challenge their employers in court. But the committee found that pregnant women were put off from going to employment tribunals by the short deadline and recently-introduced fees. On Mumsnet, one pregnant worker gave the idea short shrift. She wrote: 

“Those protections that women fought and died for have gone along with fixed contracts.

“We have no protection - heaps of people have come online and written about being shafted after announcing pregnancy. They have been seriously let down by everyone and they have been unable to 'prove' that their hours are reduced due to their pregnancy.”

In other words, we have not gone back in time. This is the era of the disposable workforce, where pregnant women can quietly be discarded as their due date nears. If MPs want to prevent the trend of discrimination getting worse, they should close the legal zero-hours loophole first.