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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Did Cornish voters for Brexit just kill off their own language?

Brexit may well pose a threat to some of the few aspects of British culture that we can agree are truly indigenous - its ancient languages.

Cornwall’s majority Leave vote in the EU referendum came as one of last year’s biggest ironies. In 2014, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly was classed as the second poorest region in northern Europe, and had become one of the EU’s biggest beneficiaries. The European Regional Development Fund’s and European Social Fund’s Objective One and Convergence plans aimed at equipping the region’s transport, ICT infrastructure and innovation capacities with hundreds of millions of Euros between 2000-2013.

If you take Cornwall’s burgeoning movement for a regional assembly at face value, the Leave vote would seem like a case in point for those who believe that Brexit was less about economics and much more about British identity and culture. The anti-immigration tone of the Leave campaign brought urgent debate to the question of what, exactly, constitutes “Britishness” and British culture. Yet moving away from Europe may well pose a threat to some of the few aspects of British culture that we can agree are truly indigenous - its ancient languages. It is European frameworks that in recent decades have prompted support to minority language survival efforts.

There’s a Cornish saying that goes: “A man who loses his tongue has lost his land.” Cornish and Welsh are living examples of how this has worked, as the original Brittonic languages that gave way to English after the Anglo-Saxons took hold across the British mainland and shaped these islands’ nations and regions as we understand them today. Their survival is intimately connected to local self-determination. While Welsh, Irish and the Scottish Celtic language Gaelic have gained substantial recognition and usage along with devolved governance, the revival of Cornish has been a harder battle.

A Cornish language revival movement has brought the number of fluent speakers from practically zero at the beginning of the 20th century, to around 500 today. Yet the protection of the language in recent years has been driven more by European initiatives than by British government. Campaigners now fear that Brexit, ironically enough, will close off lifelines to the language’s survival.

In 2001, the United Kingdom ratified the Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which includes recognition and protections for Cornish, Manx Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Scots, Ulster-Scots, and Irish. The Council of Europe is not an EU body, and we will remain an eligible member for as long as we are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR). But Theresa May has long wanted Britain to abandon this, and Brexit is providing the political conditions to question it. In February this year, a cohort of 53 human rights lawyers and experts led by rights organisation 89up were alarmed enough to write an open letter to the Observer asking ministers to ensure that acceding the ECHR remain a condition of Brexit negotiations.

Britain’s membership of the EU paved the groundwork for the recognitions and funding that British minority languages receive today. Quintessentially bureaucratic as it sounds, it was the European classification of Cornwall as a distinct region - rather than merely being part of the collectively richer South-West England - that allowed the EU’s Objective 1 and Convergence funding to flow that way. This in turn strengthened a bid to the European Social Fund (ESF) to set up MAGA Kernow, the Cornish Language Office, which sets out a strategy for the development of the language for the coming years, through initiatives such as classes, broadcasting, and place names. In 2010, ESF funds matched UK government funding of £120,000 towards the protection of the language.

It took until 2014 for the UK government to officially recognise Cornish people and their language as a distinct entity, and it is yet to put in place legislation similar to the Welsh Language Act. Soon after the Brexit vote, the Autumn 2016 budget abruptly ended its funding commitment to the Cornish language. In response to a petition garnering over 10,000 signatures, the Department for Communities and Local Government stated that they have “always been clear that its funding … was time-limited,” and that Cornwall Council should reallocate funds from its budget. Loveday Jenkin, councillor for Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish Nationalist Party and longtime language campaigner, disputes this. She claims that Cornwall Council had been assured of continued funding, but then government “took that out at the last minute.”

Independent councillor Julian German says, “We were asked to re-apply for the renewal of the funds, and were informally assured that the funding would come through the DCLG. But when the budget came out, the funds weren’t there.” In March 2017, the Council of Europe urged the government to reconsider the decision, and recommended establishing BBC support for the language.

Membership of the EU affords several opportunities to support minority languages, whether as part of regional development funds or as direct cultural bids. In 2015, Creative Europe funded Hinterland/Y Gwyll for the second time, a bilingual Welsh/English TV series distributed in 30 countries and Netflix. Further opportunities for support to the languages come from the new Erasmus+ youth and culture fund, as well as Truro’s submission this year for 2023 European City of Culture, on behalf of the region of Cornwall. British cities are eligible to apply until 2019; as a non-EU country after this, we’re unlikely to be marked as a priority.

The biggest fear from campaigners is that, despite rising nationalist sentiment country-wide, multiculturalism is viewed only in terms of foreignness. “Are we interested in multiculturalism and linguistic diversity?” asks independent councillor German. “Or are we looking to a future of a monoglot country?” There’s an argument that Brexit brings a contemporary opportunity to retrieve and redefine a lost understanding of Britishness. If so, this needn’t necessarily even be regressive or overly traditionalist. But despite these claims, without the prompting and support of common European frameworks, there’s little evidence that British cultural diversity will flourish in Brexit Britain.

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