Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Am Yisrael Chai

It was 25 years ago this very day
Now freedom moves in closer every day
-- Simple Minds, Mandela Day

Twenty-five years ago, on Sunday, June 7th, 1981, Israel set out to do what many deemed impossible, what some thought to be unnecessary at best, foolish at worst, and what we know was essential and elementary for the survival of the Jewish People. The Israel Air Force (Heyl Ha'Avir), using the unparalleled and unsurpassable symbiosis of Israel ingenuity and American weaponry, destroyed the Iraqi Al-Tuwaitha nuclear reactor at Osirak. Saddam, one of the Twentieth Century's worst dictators, had planned to use this site to manufacture the weapons to complete Hitler's work in a Final Solution of his own.

It would not have been possible without amoral, anti-semitic and delusional Western politicians, with the vile and contemptible Jacques Chirac paramount among them. Chirac was no ordinary French politician, though his delusions of grandeur, his corruption and his atavistic hesperophobia, articulated into a profound hatred of America and Israel, were more developed examples of a general strain of French thought (or, more appropriately, French non-thought).
There was simply nothing Chirac would not do for money, power, or French "glory" - and he was one of the main architects of a French role in the Middle East that wrecked every party involved, and that was only a close second to the Soviet Union in the harm and destruction it entailed. Grandeur indeed.

Israel knew what to expect from France, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the sole member of his entire family to survive the Holocaust, knew what to expect from the world in general. There were actions Israel could take, such as sabotaging the French shipments to Iraq, proceeding with targeted killings of Iraqi scientists, or trying to influence at least some of its allies. But that only did so much, and more radical steps were called for.

Enter the Heyl Ha'Avir . Widely considered to be the best non-strategic Air Force in the world, it had never undertaken a long-range bombing mission. Ever since the early morning of June 4th, 1967, and Operation Focus , the destruction of 97% of the Egyptian Air Force on the ground, its audacity, courage, focus and determination made it the envy of its Allies, and the greatest fear of its enemies (as well it should).

Ezer Weizman, the architect of the IAF, had built a remarkable organization that routinely broke new records, and that never, ever tired in its relentless pursuit of perfection. Few doubted that the IAF could achieve anything that Israel's political leadership would demand of it.

The IAF had always been included in the various scenarios for a targeted strike of Saddam's equivalent to Zyklon B, yet it lacked a suitable plane, until the F-16, one of the best fighter jets of all time, was delivered in 1980 (ironically, as part of a batch of airplanes that was originally intended for the Shah's Iran). This changed the game, and it was to change the course of world history.

The eight F-16 pilots managed to destroy the Osirak plant beyond repair, and they did so without losing a single plane or pilot. The fighter escort, composed of eight F-15 - widely considered to be the best fighter airplane in the world, and in service with only four Air Forces - was not even needed, and the sixteen planes raced home to Israel undisturbed, secure in the knowledge that they had achieved something great, something lasting, and something noble.

The youngest of the F-16 pilots, Ilan Ramon, the son of a Holocaust survivor from Romania, would go on to become Israel's first astronaut, forever reminding us that for Israel, the Jewish people, and the world, no dream is too big, no goal too high, and no burden too heavy.

May God Bless Israel.


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