Memo To: George Will
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Pre-emptive Strike of 1981
Your syndicated column last week celebrates Israel's bombing and total destruction of Iraq's nuclear power plant on June 7, 1981. I'm afraid, George, that this is just another part of the scheme by your Pentagon pals, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, to start dropping really big bombs on Baghdad as soon as we polish off Afghanistan....and maybe sooner.
Those of us who are old enough to remember and were supporters of Israeli policy at the time accepted the news that the bombing was justified. We figured Saddam Hussein was cooking up some nukes and Israel Prime Minister Menachim Begin acted in self-defense with an Israeli pre-emptive strike on its neighbors. (There was another pre-emptive strike on Lebanon later that same year, as I recall.) Your column, to which I will link, tells your readers we should all be thrilled to pieces with that strike, 15 miles outside Baghdad, or by now Saddam Hussein would have several Hiroshima-size nukes. You even go to the trouble of jabbing The New York Times which "said Israel had embraced ‘the code of terror' and that the raid was ‘inexcusable and short-sighted aggression.'" You then noted: "The Times added this remarkable thought: ‘Even assuming that Iraq was hellbent to divert enriched uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, it would have been working toward a capacity that Israel itself acquired long ago. Contrary to its official assertion, therefore, Israel was not in "mortal danger" of being outgunned. It faced a potential danger of losing its Middle East nuclear monopoly, of being deterred one day from the use of atomic weapons in war.'"
At the time, our own government considered the Israeli strike an act of aggression and voted in the United Nations Security Council to condemn it. Your column reminds us that by 1993, the Israeli general who led the strike was able to hang up a framed letter from Dick Cheney, who thanked him for making his job as Defense Secretary much easier during the Gulf War. I can understand that, George, but all the evidence I can find is that Iraq's nuclear power plant was being used for peaceful purposes in 1981, that it had been a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency had recently inspected the plant, which had been constructed by the French, and found nothing amiss. The former Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoon, told me in 1999 that only AFTER Israel blew up the billion-dollar Baghdad plant did Saddam order work begun on acquiring nukes to match Israel's. Of course, I checked, and find that to this day the IAEA insists the Iraq weapons program did not begin until 1982.
In other words, George, if Israel had not blown up the Osiraq plant, it is conceivable that Saddam would have had no reason to begin a clandestine program when the smoke cleared. The fact that this was clearly an act of aggression by Israel is conveniently forgotten, by The New York Times, and perhaps even Vice President Cheney. But it has not been forgotten in the Islamic world, which produced the kinds of "extremists" who would come to look upon the United States as a protector of Israel, anytime it wished to conduct a pre-emptive war or fly American-supplied aircraft over a neighbor's border to level a nuclear power plant. Do you see what I mean? You really do your readers no service by rehashing what really happened back in 1981 and serving it up as fresh propaganda on behalf of a pre-emptive strike by the United States against Iraq today. In 1996, the University of Pennsylvania's "Proliferation Program" reported in a case study on Osiraq:
Having failed to secure a replacement reactor, Iraq turned to uranium enrichment programs in order to acquire weapons-grade nuclear material. The natural uranium Iraq had already acquired (250 tons in 1981) and all further uranium it could acquire on the open market could be enriched on Iraqi soil and developed into nuclear weapons. There was no longer a need for a reactor. So in the long term, the Israeli attack did not delay the nuclear weapons program - it accelerated it by stimulating a sense of domestic political urgency. As a country living in an anarchic international system and facing an intense security dilemma, Iraq was compelled to expand its program and to identify Israel as a direct threat. Although United Nations weapons inspections following the Gulf War of 1991 did find evidence of a nuclear weapons program, they found no evidence that this program pre-dated 1981.
To sum up: Iraq was a NPT signatory and Iraq's nuclear activities were sanctioned by the UN-IAEA. On the other hand Israel was not a NPT signatory and in bombing IAEA-sanctioned activities was essentially attacking the entire UN NPT safeguards and physical security regime. If you don't believe me, George, I'll link to the UPenn case study, so you can read it for yourself. There was a time, when we were still friends and fellow Cold Warriors, that you did some reporting on your own instead of getting it all directly from Perle & Wolfie. You should try it again, or the next big noise from the Islamic world may indeed involve nukes.