Thirty-five years after Operation Opera – the Israeli air attack that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, retired IAF officers and Mossad agents revealed hitherto unknown details of the operation on Friday.
In an expose aired on Channel 10, Col. (Ret.) Ze’ev Raz, who led the June 7, 1981 raid, said that Air Force technicians “recognized that flying to Iraq and back” — some 2,000 miles in all — was slightly beyond the range of our jets, so we used all sorts of tricks to extend it.”
The Israeli Air Force could not rely on US flying tanker planes for mid-flight refueling at the time, and Israeli refueling capabilities, then in the making, would not be operational until 1982, by which point intelligence assessments were that the nuclear reactor would go online.
The strike could not be delayed, and therefore innovative methods for making the fuel last were introduced. All eight F-16As made it safely back; even 35 years later, however, the specifics of how they did so were kept secret.