McNair Paper 41, Radical Responses to Radical Regimes: Evaluating Preemptive Counter-Proliferation, May 1995

Institute for National Strategic Studies


McNair Paper Number 41, Radical Responses to Radical Regimes: Evaluating Preemptive Counter-Proliferation, May 1995

Iran Attacks an Iraqi Nuclear Reactor

In September 1980, at the onset of the Iran-Iraq War, the Israeli Chief of Army Intelligence had publicly urged the Iranians to bomb the key Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. Co-located at the site is the Iraq Nuclear Research Center where Israeli intelligence believed the first Arab atomic bomb was going to be assembled.

Whether by coincidence or design, nine days into the war, on September 30, 1980, two Iranian Phantom jets, part of a larger group of aircraft attacking a conventional electric power plant near Baghdad also bombed the Osirak reactor. Minor damage to the reactor was reported, although the reactor was up and running again a short time thereafter. No further Iranian air attacks against Iraqi nuclear facilities were identified during the rest of the seven-year war.

It is not clear whether this attack was consciously designed as a strategic strike to deny Saddam Hussein an atomic bomb or whether this raid was an afterthought of two Iranian pilots who had weapons and fuel left to bomb a target of opportunity after their group had attacked the electric power plant.

Whichever is true, the Iranian raid constitutes the third time any country had attacked the nuclear facilities of an enemy and was the first recorded PCP attack since World War II. (Note 39)

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