April 19, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Perhaps the most famous operation conducted with F-16 fighters was the "Operation Opera", or as it is known to the world - "The raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor".
IDFAF F-16A block 10 #243 is the plane that hit the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. It is parked at Hatzerim AB museum on the 56th Independance day of Israel. [Photo by Tsahi Ben Ami]
Today, Israeli television for the first time aired footage of this operation including the detailed preparations leading up to the attack.
Eight F-16 US fighter jets were used in the attack on the Tammouz reactor, west of Baghdad on June 7, 1981. Each aircraft carried 2 fuel tanks, 2 Mk. 84 and two AIM-9
. The pilots were trained for low-altitude flights in secret in Cyprus and the Red Sea.
By the end of the seventies, Iraq
purchased an "Osiris" class nuclear reactor from France. Israel
's intelligence assumed this was a step taken by Iraq to produce Plutonium for an atomic bomb.
According to Israeli intelligence, the summer of 1981 would be the last chance to operate against the reactor, without putting the population of Iraq in danger of nuclear fallout, since at this stage the reactor wasn't operational and not loaded with it's nuclear fuel.
Directed by Nir Toyb, the 90-minute film showed how the Israeli secret service and the army planned the attack and prepared the pilots who were trained for low-altitude flights in secret in Cyprus and the Red Sea locations, for any eventuality and the actual raid on the nuke plant.
The youngest of the pilots in the operation, Ilan Ramon, died in February 2003 when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated.
The Israeli attack drew wide world wide condemnation and was severely criticized by the US and in the UN Security Council.