As we mark the 40th anniversary of Israel’s 7th June 1981 air raid on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor (a facility which Ayatollah Khomeini had bombed nine months earlier) could the incoming leaders of these two warring nations — Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi and Israel’s Naftali Bennett — usher in an era of glasnost between Tehran and Tel Aviv?
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One of the many ironies of the brinksmanship between Iran and Israel is that the nuclear programs of both nations had an almost identical genesis. For just as the genocide of the Jews that was wrought by Hitler’s Zyklon B gas at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka and elsewhere inspired Israel’s ‘never again’ quest for the Bomb, Iran’s own tragic human losses from Saddam Hussein’s sarin, mustard and tabun gas attacks played a decisive role in Tehran’s own pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the Iranian government under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, fearing a potential Persian Holocaust at the hands of a nuclear-armed Saddam, was the first of the two nations to launch a bombing raid on the Iraqi tyrant’s Osirak nuclear reactor on 30th September 1980 — a strike which came at the urging of Israel’s chief of army intelligence.
Tehran’s ‘Operation Scorch Sword’ occurred almost a year before Israel’s 7th June 1981 ‘Operation Opera’ raid whose 40th anniversary we mark today. The Israelis owed the success of their own mission to the creation of a full-scale replica of Osirak with which to rehearse the attack, thanks to reconnaissance photos of the reactor supplied to them by Khomeini.
(Saddam would later retaliate for the Iranian strike by launching his own bombing runs on Tehran’s reactor at Bushehr — a mock-up of which Israel has undoubtedly erected on her own soil as she ponders an assault on the nuclear installations of her one-time Persian ally.)
Lest it be forgotten, it was some of Israel’s newfound Gulf Arab partners who once funded Saddam’s (anti-Israel) militarization and nuclearization drives. As strange as it may seem, Israel has always had far more in common with Iran’s mullahs — culturally, politically, and strategically — than she has ever had with any of the Arab sheikhs.
During the Iran-Iraq war, Tel Aviv supplied arms to Tehran in spite of the vocal anti-Israel pronouncements of Ayatollah Khomeini. According to one report, over $70 million worth of munitions were sold to Iran as part of Operation Seashell and that, in spite of its rhetoric against Zionism, there were over one hundred Israeli specialists living in Iran for the duration of her war with Iraq where they remained even after the 1988 ceasefire.
(Is it any wonder that Mossad’s hit men are well acquainted with the territory of their Persian nemesis and are able to slay Tehran’s nuclear scientists at will?)
If these two adversaries could at one time embrace such pragmatism in spite of their emerging enmity there is no reason they cannot do so now. Both nations must pull back from the brink and make peace before either of them embarks on an irreversible misadventure.
The fact that Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel provides Tehran’s rulers with an invaluable bridge to the Jewish state which could be utilised to heal their rift with Tel Aviv. And it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world for US President Joe Biden to defrost America’s own domestic Cold War between his Democratic Party and the GOP by tapping his predecessor’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — an orthodox Jew and architect of the Abraham Accords — to serve as his administration’s special envoy to these two mortal enemies.
As luck would have it both Iran and Israel — the only two practicing democracies in the Middle East — now find themselves on the cusp of new leadership. Were either county to see the accession to power of their own ‘Gorbachevs’ — Raisi in Tehran and Bennett in Tel Aviv — the world could witness an unforeseen era of glasnost and perestroika in both nations and one which could herald a thawing of relations between them.
Indeed, for all of Israel’s misgivings about the Biden Administration’s proposed return to the JCPOA, a golden opportunity could be at hand to broaden the nuclear agreement into one that sets the stage for a comprehensive bilateral peace treaty between Iran and Israel. Such an agreement could be signed at a Camp David summit between Biden, Raisi and Bennett before the year is out.
And since it was an ancient Persian King, Cyrus the Great, who liberated the Jews from captivity in Babylon the new accord between these two friends-turned-foes-turned-friends-again could be named for him: the Cyrus Pact.
Could Israel Ban the Bomb?
An Iran-Israel peace treaty could also pave the way for Israel to play a transformational role in global non-proliferation efforts. But not through its ongoing campaign of assassinations and sabotage of proliferators like herself but by shocking the world with a public declaration of the existence of her own nuclear weapons — and then calling upon the world’s nuclear states to follow her lead in their dismantlement. After all, if Israel is going to proclaim herself to be a “light unto the nations” isn’t it time she finally behaved accordingly?
Israel, precisely because of the opacity she has maintained around her arsenal, finds herself in a unique position to jolt the world into denuclearisation like no other nuclear state on Earth. Indeed, an Israeli announcement on the existence of her own arsenal could have the same shock effect which the Pentagon’s long-awaited report on the UFO phenomenon is expected to have.
As an interim step towards full denuclearisation in a world that is not quite ready to give up its nukes, Israel could call on the world’s nuclear powers to pool their weapons into a single arsenal to be jointly controlled by a Security Council-like body comprised of these nuclear states.
This entity — the Global Unified Stockpile (or GUS) — would exist to enforce the non-possession of nuclear weapons by individual nation-states as well as oversee the development of a new class of nuclear deflectors designed to thwart near-Earth objects which found themselves on an extinction-level collision course with our planet: an Iron Dome for Earth.
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Paul Bitakaramire is a freelance writer on Global Security and Justice issues based in Manchester, England. He has been published in Britain’s Spectator magazine and launched a petition to secure the prosecution of the surviving assassins of Malcolm X. That petition can be found here.