The Search for Nuclear Technology

The Search for Nuclear Technology

On June 7, 1981, Israeli air force planes flew over Jordanian, Saudi, and Iraqi airspace to attack and destroy an Iraqi nuclear facility near Baghdad. In a statement issued after the raid, the Israeli government stated that it had discovered from "sources of unquestioned reliability" that Iraq was producing nuclear bombs at the Osiraq (acronym for Osiris-Iraq) plant, and, for this reason, Israel had initiated a preemptive strike. Baghdad, however, reiterated a previous statement that the French atomic reactor was designed for research and for the eventual production of electricity.

The attack raised a number of questions of interpretation regarding international legal concepts. Those who approved of the raid argued that the Israelis had engaged in an act of legitimate self-defense justifiable under international law and under Article 51 of the charter of the United Nations (UN). Critics contended that the Israeli claims about Iraq's future capabilities were hasty and ill-considered and asserted that the idea of anticipatory self-defense was rejected by the community of states. In the midst of this controversy, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) came under fire from individuals and from governments who complained that the Vienna-based UN agency had failed to alert the world to developments at Osiraq. IAEA officials denied these charges and reaffirmed their position on the Iraqi reactor, that is, that no weapons had been manufactured at Osiraq and that Iraqi officials had regularly cooperated with agency inspectors. They also pointed out that Iraq was a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (informally called the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT) and that Baghdad had complied with all IAEA guidelines. The Israeli nuclear facility at Dimona, it was pointed out, was not under IAEA safeguards, because Israel had not signed the NPT and had refused to open its facilities to UN inspections.

After the raid, Baghdad announced that it planned to rebuild the destroyed facility. Although France agreed in principle to provide technical assistance, no definitive timetable had been announced as of early 1988.

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