- Feb 4, 2007
Contrary to prevalent mythology, there is no evidence that Israel's destruction of Osirak delayed Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The attack may actually have accelerated it.
Osirak is not applicable to Iran anyway, since an air strike on a single reactor is not a model for the comprehensive campaign that would be required to deal, even unsatisfactorily, with the extensive, concealed and protected program that Iran is probably developing. As the United States crafts non-proliferation policy, it should soberly consider the actual effect of the Osirak attack and the limitations of even stronger air action.
In contrast to a ground war, air power has the allure of quick, clean, decisive action without messy entanglement. Smash today, gone tomorrow. Iraq's nuclear program demonstrates how unsuccessful air strikes can be even when undertaken on a massive scale. Recall the surprising discoveries after the Iraq War. In 1991 coalition air forces destroyed the known nuclear installations in Iraq, but when UN inspectors went into the country after the war, they unearthed a huge infrastructure for nuclear weapons development that had been completely unknown to Western intelligence before the war.
Obliterating the Osirak reactor did not put the brakes on Saddam's nuclear weapons program because the reactor that was destroyed could not have produced a bomb on its own and was not even necessary for producing a bomb. Nine years after Israel's attack on Osirak, Iraq was very close to producing a nuclear weapon. Had Saddam been smart enough in 1990 to wait a year longer, he might have been able to have a nuclear weapon in his holster when he invaded Kuwait.
There are two methods for developing fissionable material for a nuclear weapon. One is to reprocess spent fuel from a nuclear reactor like Osirak into fissionable plutonium. In order to reprocess the fuel from Osirak on a significant scale, the Iraqis would have needed to construct a separate plutonium reprocessing plant. Many laymen commonly assume the effectiveness of the Israeli strike because they mistakenly believe that a nuclear reactor alone can produce explosive material for a bomb. Iraq had made no move toward building the necessary reprocessing facility at the time the Israelis struck the reactor. Without such a separate plant, the destruction of the reactor was practically superfluous.
I cannot refute any of this.
As for why the US would be bothered by this, there are many reasons.
1) In a battle against extremism, why go out of the way to create even more?
2) Any strikes on Iran will destroy all wiggle room that the USA has to pursue other options. Iran, internally, is pretty divided actually, and support for the President is pretty low, an internal rebellion is possible, or the election of a new leader, but all of those options go away the minute Israel attacks.
3) Israel admits they are unable to take out all of the targets (except for the usual saber rattling), so why would the US want an attack to take place to take option off the table for the USA, and not even destroy or get many of the targets?
4) Any airstrike will most likely have limited success if any real success at all. So, again, the USA will never allow these hits to take place. Also, we know that hits on Iran will unite the Iranians against Israel and the US and lose any chance of a new leader as I said before. It also gives Ahmadinejad the ammunition he needs to then put the nuclear program on the fast tract and consolidate his power, something we do not want him to be able to do.
5) The implications this strike would have on US forces in Iraq are massive. Iran can make or break Iraq right now, and this would guarantee that they break it, resulting in a lot more US deaths in the area, and further destabilizing the region.