Operation Opera

June 7th, 1981, the Israeli Defence Forces commenced Operation Opera, with the launch of eight F-16As, each loaded with two unguided Mark-84 2,000-pound delay-action bombs. Simultaneously a flight of six F-15As Eagles were dispatched to provide fighter support for the bomb laden Falcon jets.
Their target was a Iraqi nuclear reactor that was nearing completion, and feared to be on the verge of producing plutonium for a weapons program.  The Osirak reactor complex,  located only 10 miles outside of the city of Bagdad (33°12′30″N 44°31′30″E), made for a difficult target, but according to intel reports, it was believed to be a viable threat that the reactor may become operational within the next 30 days, which, for the Israelis, meant that the clock was ticking.  


The distance between Israeli military bases and the reactor site spanned over 990 miles, necessitating the violation of Jordanian and/or Saudi airspace before penetrating Iraqi airspace, thus making mid-air refuelling unfeasible for the mission.

The F-16 pilots assigned to the operation were;  Ze'ev Raz, Amos Yadlin, Dobbi Yaffe, Hagai Katz, Amir Nachumi, Iftach Spector, Relik Shafir, and Ilan Ramon, whom later became the first Israeli astronaut, sadly perishing in the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

On 7 June 1981, at 12:55 GMT, the operation was initiated, and the Israeli jets departed Etzion Airbase, flying unchallenged through Jordanian and Saudi airspace. The Israeli pilots cleverly handled all communications in Saudi-accented Arabic while in Jordanian airspace and advised Jordanian air controllers that they were an off course Saudi patrol.
As they transitioned over Saudi Arabia, they posed as Jordanian aircraft, utilizing Jordanian radio signals and formations. At this point, the heavily loaded Falcon jets exhausted their external fuel tanks, and jettisoned them onto the Saudi desert below, as they continued onward towards their designated target.  


The Israeli aircraft crossed the gulf of Aqaba, and most unknowingly, flew directly over the yacht of King Hussein of Jordan, and with their Israeli markings in full view of the king himself.
Taking into account the location, heading, and armament load of the jets, Hussein deduced the Iraqi reactor to be their most probable target. He immediately contacted his government and ordered an urgent warning to be sent to the Iraqis. However, due to a communication failure the message was never received and the Israeli planes continued into Iraq, undetected.


Upon reaching Iraqi airspace the squadron broke up, with two of the F-15s moving in for close escort for the F-16s, while the remaining Eagles pulled up and away, to act as a diversion and as a secondary ready back-up.
The F-16 attack squadron closing in on their target area, now descended to less than 100 feet over the Iraqi desert floor, and successfully flew directly under the skirt of the Iraqi radar defences.


At 14:35 GMT, 20 km from the Osirak reactor complex, the F-16 formation pulled away from the desert floor, and climbed to 6,900 feet before going into a 35-degree dive at 1,100 km/h, while aimed directly at the reactor complex below.
Once reaching their target dive speed of 1,100 m, coming down on the reactor like a bag of hammers, the F-16s began releasing their loads of Mark 84 bombs in pairs, at 5-second intervals.
As the old saying goes...when an unstoppable force encounters an immovable object, eight of the sixteen released transonic 2000 pound bombs cut through the hardened concrete structure of the reactor, destroying the containment dome in the process.  
The entire attack, from the commencement of the bombing run, to completion of the mission objectives was a total elapsed time of 120 seconds.
The now empty, and all accounted for, Israeli aircraft, rejoined as they turned for home, climbing away from the threat of Iraqi anti-aircraft defences below.


The United Nations Security Council issued a unanimous and almost immediate response on 19 June 1981, following eight meetings and statements from Iraq and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Security Council Resolution 487 strongly condemned the attack as a "clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct" and called on Israel to refrain from such attacks in the future;

The UN Council recognized the right of Iraq to "establish programmes of technological and nuclear development"

 

Pictured below: Israeli Air Force F-16A Netz #243, flown by Colonel Ilan Ramon in Operation Opera. Netz #243 was the eighth and last aircraft to release its bombs during Operation Opera.  If you look closely, you will notice the most unusual markings representing a reactor kill triangular mission marking for the attack, a nuclear reactor silhouetted against the Iraqi Air Force emblem.

Image credit: Brno-Tuřany, Czechia

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