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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We must listen to our closest partners and stay in the EU

To Europe the UK stands as a beacon of freedom, justice, democracy and fairness - but Brexit threatens that.

The UK has a lot to be proud of. With only one per cent of the world’s population, we are one of the five largest economies in the world.

Could the UK survive if it left the EU? Yes, there is no doubt that we are a hugely adaptable, flexible and resilient nation.

I am openly Eurosceptic. The European Union is in urgent need of reform. Despite their huge powers, MEPs have no accountability before the electorate and no connection with the regions they represent. I do not know anyone who knows who their MEPs are!

Furthermore, it is ludicrous to move from Brussels to Strasbourg for a week every month – the EU should just be based in Brussels. The status quo is inefficient and undemocratic. Just imagine if Parliament had to move between Westminster and Belfast or Edinburgh once a month?

The Euro is a proven failed project because one size cannot fit all. The European Union makes up just seven per cent of the world’s population, yet it has 25 per cent of the world’s economy. It also has 50 per cent of the world’s welfare spending, which is completely unsustainable.

And yet, in spite of my reservations, and in spite of being Eurosceptic, I believe that we should stay in the EU. 

Yes, the UK would adapt if we left, but the question is, would we thrive and prosper? The UK economy and our international standing would take a severe blow should we vote to leave the EU.

This is the view held by heads of state, international trading partners, and – critically - our closest allies. Independently both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have remarked on the difficulty of trading with the UK after a Brexit, and people I have spoken to from almost every country say this too.

Indeed, if we left the EU, we would need to renegotiate 50 trade agreements, not least our trade deal with the EU itself. This is not exactly going to be an easy negotiation with an organisation we have just deserted and, through our actions, possibly permanently destabilised!

Brexiteers talk about how we would be able to sign trade deals quickly with other countries and even talk about relying on the WTO. Well, if the WTO was so great, why are all these trade deals necessary in the first place? Trade deals are notoriously torturous processes and it will not be easy to agree trade deals with other countries, especially as we will be trying to forge trade deals with countries that did not want us to leave the EU in the first place.

Indian administrators, politicians and business leaders see the UK as their gateway to the EU and the key to their prosperity. European leaders do not want us to leave. Those whose work and commitment is of central importance to our economic growth are calling out saying ‘we want you to remain a part of the EU’.

The IMF, along with the CBI and Bank of England, has urged the UK not to leave. And I have spoken with professors from Harvard Business School who have been unanimous in urging the UK to remain in the EU, in fact saying we ‘would be mad to leave’!

This is about pragmatism, and the enormous impact leaving the European Union would have on inward investment, international trade, innovation, the strength of our industries and economic growth.  

Should we leave the European Union, we will lose a vast amount of research and development funding, threatening something that is already underfunded compared with the EU and OECD average. Almost one thousand projects at seventy-eight UK universities and research centres benefit from funds from the European Research Council. 

We also stand to lose the strong collaboration that currently exists between British and European universities. Indeed, all universities in the UK have spoken out against Brexit.

More broadly, people simply do not realise a rarely highlighted fact that the UK is the number two country in the world for foreign direct investment. While almost half of that is in financial services, we are still second in the world.

Would we retain that position if the EU referendum leads to a Brexit? This uncertainty is reflected amongst both businesses and consumers. Deloitte recently surveyed the CFOs of FTSE 350 companies and found that businesses are delaying recruiting new staff and other internal investments until after June.  

Meanwhile, a recent index by GfK puts consumer confidence 18 points lower than a year ago.

All the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of a Brexit vote could have a very damaging impact on the UK’s current account, leaving us with a huge hole in inward investment.

We need to be doing everything we can to encourage this investment, and simultaneously use the dip in the pound to address our trade deficit through selling more goods and services abroad.

And perhaps most importantly, the EU and NATO have together maintained peace in Europe for over 70 years. The UK has never operated alone; we thrive on collaboration and partnerships.

A senior vice-chancellor of a European university said to me the other day, ‘How can the UK even think of leaving Europe? You have saved us twice in the last century. How can you even think of being responsible for what might potentially destroy the EU? Would you be able to live with that?’

That is not what the UK does; to Europe the UK stands as a beacon of freedom, justice, democracy and fairness.

Leaving the EU would threaten both the Union and our economic recovery. We should heed the advice of the almost everyone else in the world outside the UK.

Brexiteers often talk about losing our sovereignty. Well, we are very much in control of our sovereignty already and in many ways we have best of both worlds – we are part of the European Union, but not part of Schengen, and we are not part of the Euro.

Crucially, we are also not bound to measures advocating an ‘ever closer union’. We are still in control of our destiny and in spite of all the protestations about EU red tape, we are one of the most open and flexible economies in the world where, in 26 years of being in business, I have never faced corruption.

Britain is a relatively easy place to do business and it is now one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. Why risk all this? All I have said is not scaremongering – it is reality.  What the Brexiteers offer us risks what we have and creates uncertainty.

As the famous saying goes: ‘If you want to travel fast then travel alone. If you want to go far travel together’.

We need to stay together in the EU and help to reform it from the inside.

Lord Bilimoria is Founder and Chairman of the Cobra Beer Partnership and Chair of the UK-India Business Council