Israeli pilot recalls smashing a rival's nuclear ambitions

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TEL AVIV, Israel -- Lt. Col. Zeev Raz tightened his grip on the controls of his F-16 and nosed the fighter jet into a dive. He patiently locked his bombsights on the dome of Iraq's nuclear reactor.

The setting sun, at Raz's back, illuminated the reactor as if by spotlight. Raz flipped a switch with his index finger and released two 2,000-pound bombs. Seven other Israeli fighter jets flying with him did the same.

In one bold action on June 7, 1981, Israel's military had left the Osiraq nuclear reactor near Baghdad in smoldering ruins and dealt a blow to Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions.

"We didn't see a single Iraqi MiG (fighter), and not a single surface-to-air missile was fired," Raz says. "The whole operation was just too perfect."

The Osiraq mission is getting renewed attention in Israel now that the United Nations Security Council is likely to take up the issue of Iran's nuclear program, setting up a possible showdown between Iran and the West.

When asked in December how far he would go to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said "2,000 kilometers" -- the approximate flying distance between Israel and key Iranian nuclear sites.

Halutz says diplomatic efforts won't thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. "I believe that the political means that are used by the Europeans and the U.S. to convince the Iranians to stop the project will not succeed."

However, military observers say a quick, Osiraq-style Israeli strike against Iranian targets is unlikely. "We'll never see ... eight planes swooping down on Iran," Raz says. "It could never happen."

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