Tuesday, February 7, 2012

1981 / 2012; Begin / Netanyahu

From a report in Israel Hayom:

Three decades ago, an Israeli prime minister faced his Cabinet and invoked the Holocaust in an emotional appeal to approve an air strike against an Arab atomic reactor.  Menachem Begin got the nod, cautioning that a nuclear-armed Iraq under Saddam Hussein would pose a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. On June 7, 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed the nuclear facility near Baghdad.

The current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would also need ministerial backing, from his 15-member Security Cabinet, should he seek to attack Iran, despite Washington’s warnings of the risks to the global economy and U.S. regional interests...

...In 1981, Begin kept both the Knesset plenum and a key parliamentary security panel in the dark about the planned F-16 sneak attack, explaining later that he could not trust lawmakers not to leak details to the media.

The air force chief at the time, David Ivry, said the mission was approved by the Security Cabinet and then the full Cabinet, with all present being asked to sign secrecy contracts.

“First came the approval in principle, and then the detailed discussions and briefings,” Ivry told Reuters.

A briefing paper presented to Begin’s Cabinet ministers by Israeli military intelligence cautioned that Washington might respond to an attack against Iraq by clamping an arms embargo on Israel, according to “Tammuz in Flames,” a 1993 book on the operation by Israeli journalist Shlomo Nakdimon, whose manuscript was reviewed by close Begin aides.

But with just one holdout, and over opposition by Israel’s Mossad spy chief, the ministers voted in favor of the attack, which destroyed the French-built reactor without the loss of a single Israeli plane.

“The memory of the Holocaust in which six million Jews perished remained before [Begin’s] eyes throughout all the discussions,” Moshe Nissim, a Cabinet minister at the time, wrote in his own book about the strike.

“He underscored the fact that this action was saving thousands of Israeli children from the claws of the Butcher of Baghdad,” Nissim wrote.

Israel’s official statement on the 1981 air raid spoke of the need to eliminate “an existential threat to the people of Israel,” language echoed by Netanyahu, who has said the Holocaust has taught the Jewish state it must not shy from acting alone to thwart any danger to its survival...

To cast the net of consensus further, Netanyahu would almost certainly convene Israel’s centrist opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, to notify her of his plans and ask for her support.

Learning of plans for the strike against Iraq’s reactor, Shimon Peres, Labor opposition leader at the time and now Israeli president, cautioned Begin that Israel would be isolated internationally, “like a thistle in the desert,” if the attack went ahead.

As opposition leader in 2007, Likud party chief Netanyahu was reportedly consulted about the Syria strike by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Though Netanyahu lacks chemistry with Livni, as a former Cabinet minister and Mossad spy she would not be viewed as a leak risk.

Three decades ago, Begin took no such chances.

Israeli warplanes were already on their way to Iraq when Begin, who also served as defense minister, summoned his Cabinet to his Jerusalem residence. Although the ministers had approved the operation, they had agreed that only Begin, his foreign minister and top generals would decide when to launch the raid.

“Shalom, my friends,” Begin told them, according to Nakdimon’s account. “At this moment, our planes are approaching Baghdad and the first one will be over the atomic reactor shortly.”
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