Jerusalem (Jun. 9)
Israel will protest to the United States over what it considers to be Washington’s hasty condemnation of Sunday’s air attack that destroyed a nuclear facility under construction in Iraq which Israel claims would soon have had the capability to produce atomic bombs. Premier Menachem Begin told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee during a three hour briefing today that the protest would focus on the fact that the U.S. State Department issued its condemnation without waiting for Israel to provide it with all the relevant data and explanations surrounding the operation.
The State Department said yesterday in a prepared statement that “the unprecedented character” of the attack “cannot but seriously add to the already tense situation in the area” and said it was possible Israel had violated the agreement under which it purchased the American F-4 and F-15 jet fighter-bombers used in the attack. The statement was the sharpest rebuke Israel has yet received from the Reagan Administration.
The attack on Iraq’s Osiriak nuclear facility being built by French technicians near Baghdad was announced in a government communique released late yesterday afternoon. The communique said the attack was based on positive knowledge from unimpeachable sources that the Iraqi reactor would be operational between early July and early September and could produce nuclear weapons intended for use against Israel.
Begin amplified on the communique in a radio address last night. He said it was virtually “now or never” to knock out Iraq’s potential nuclear capability in order to save Israel from destruction. Iraq’s “cruel” ruler Haddam Hussein, who had “butchered his own close colleagues” would have had “no hesitation” to drop “three or four or five” nuclear bombs on Israel, Begin said.
BEGIN DEFIANT TO WORLD REACTION
Begin was defiant in response to world reactions which have been largely critical. He said Israel would “stand firm” in the face of criticism from whatever quarter because the operation had been required “to ensure the existence of the Jewish people in its homeland.” He said he had sent a letter to President Reagan, through the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, Ephraim Evron, explaining the operation. He confirmed that the U.S. had no prior knowledge of the Israeli attack and also that he had given no hint of it to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt when they met at Ophira in Sinai last Thursday.
Begin strenuously denied allegations from opposition sources that Israel’s elections at the end of this month had anything to do with the decision to knock out Iraq’s nuclear facility. He said the decision was taken by the Cabinet “many months ago” but there had been “delays and difficulties.” He injected a partisan note however, saying he had informed Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres about the government’s intention some months ago. According to Begin, Peres said nothing at the time but “three or four weeks ago” he wrote to Begin advising against the operation.
Peres said today that he had not objected to the air attack in principle but had opposed plans to carry it out on May 10, the day of the French Presidential elections.
NEW YORK REPUBLICANS SUPPORT RAID
The Israeli raid was strongly backed by two New York Republicans, Rep. Jack Kemp who is presently visiting Israel and Sen. Alphonse D’Amato. Kemp agreed with Begin today that the American condemnation was hasty. He said the Reagan Administration should have waited to receive Israel’s full explanation and its information regarding the Iraqi nuclear reactor before formulating its statement. D’Amato, in a statement released by his office in Washington, praised the Israeli attack as “courageous.” He said that “If Israel felt this was what they had to do to ensure their security then we are in no position to second guess them. We cannot fault Israel, given the attitude of Iraq toward the survival of the Jewish state. They would destroy Israel if they had the opportunity,” D’Amato said.
But in Washington today, Rep. Clement Zablocki (D. Wisc.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the Israeli raid “a highly irresponsible action” that could destroy the Camp David peace process. On the other hand, Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif) said the “pre-emptive strike is defensive” in view of his information that Iraq “could have” an atomic weapon by Oct. I “and if not then, certainly by the end of the year.”
According to reports here, the Israeli Cabinet was initially divided over the wisdom of the air strike. It was said to have been opposed by Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, Interior Minister Yosef Burg and Education Minister Zevulun Hammer. On the other hand, Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, the government’s most outspoken hawk, threatened to resign when the decision was delayed, newspapers here said today.
Most Israeli newspapers backed the raid today but expressed caution about the international repercussions. Several papers suggested that the attack, while necessary, was motivated to some extent by the approaching elections.
Meanwhile, French sources reported that only one of two nuclear reactors under construction in Iraq was hit and severely damaged by the Israeli raiders. The sources said one French technician was killed. The Israeli communique yesterday claimed the raid was carried out on Sunday when no technicians would be on the site and that none were hurt.