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Seeking to thwart Iraq's nuclear programme Israel bombed French warehouse, book claims

Journalists are shown the destroyed buildings believed to be used for storing radio active material at the Russian-built Tammuz (Osirak) Iraqi nuclear reactor bombed by Israel in 1981 on 09 September 2002 [RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP via Getty Images]
Journalists are shown the destroyed buildings believed to be used for storing radio active material at the Russian-built Tammuz (Osirak) Iraqi nuclear reactor bombed by Israel in 1981 on 09 September 2002 [RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP via Getty Images]

The Mossad tried to sabotage Iraq's nuclear programme in violation of French sovereignty, Israeli nuclear engineer Michael Ron has said in his recently published memoir. Ron details the occupation states failed attempt to prevent the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from getting his hands on material required to develop an Iraqi nuclear weapons programme. The setback prompted a course change which led to the 1981 air strike that destroyed the country's French-built Osirak nuclear reactor.

Ron, now 89, was one of the top scientists at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center, which is run under the auspices of Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). Details of the Israeli mission to sabotage Iraq's nuclear programme, codenamed Operation Opera, was recounted in his Hebrew memoir 'The Quiet Sabra'. Haaretz published a lengthy piece using Ron's account of the mission, highlighting Israel's failure to contain Saddam Hussein despite controversially undermining French sovereignty by bombing a facility housing parts for Iraq's nuclear programme.

A string of failures preceded the 1981 Israeli airstrike on the Osirak nuclear reactor. Between 1974 and 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Defence Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yigal Allon are said to have used overt and covert diplomacy in an attempt to influence Italy, Brazil and other countries and in particular France, demanding that they stop aiding Hussein in his nuclear programme.

With the election of Menachem Begin in 1977, Israel changed tactics and embarked on a plan to sabotage Iraq's nuclear programme at its source by going after French-made parts. Mossad had obtained quite precise information from most of the French and other companies involved in planning and building the Iraqi facility. The Mossad is said to have also managed to enlist a number of Iraqi engineers and physicists who travelled to France on occasion for further training or to purchase equipment.

READ: Iraq plans to build nuclear reactor for research purposes

In 1979 Israel launched an operation in the town of La Seyne-sur-Mer, France, on the Mediterranean coast west of Toulon. The targets were warehouses belonging to a company, which specialised in manufacturing parts for nuclear ships and reactors. The plan involved setting off a series of explosions to destroy giant tank cores destined for the reactor in Iraq and were supposed to be loaded onto a ship to that country a few days later. The explosions are said to have heavily damaged, but not completely destroyed the tank as the Mossad had expected.

It's suggested that Israel tried to cover up the plot as an hour after the explosion an anonymous caller told French newspapers that an unknown organisation of "green" environmental activists had assumed responsibility for the sabotage. French intelligence services didn't buy that account and suspected that the informant was someone from the Mossad's psychological warfare and disinformation division.

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