ISIS Won’t Find Nuclear Weapons in Iraq or Syria, Thanks to Israel

June 8, 2015

4 min read

Louis Rene Beres

Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”

As President Obama continues to legitimize a nuclear Iran with his surrender-based negotiations, he also worries incongruously about regional nuclear proliferation. Ironically, it is only because of Israel’s own earlier renunciations of such pretend diplomacy, and because of Jerusalem’s corollary preemptions against both Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities, that the Middle East is not already awash in Arab nuclear weapons.

It’s not complicated. Precisely because of Israel’s singularly courageous and correspondingly lawful self-defense operations in Iraq and Syria, America and its allies do not currently face Islamist nuclear weapons technologies. Thankfully, especially as portions of these countries continue to crumble before advancing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces, murderous terrorist armies will not discover any nuclear weapons or supportive infrastructures along the way.

The reason is clear: Thanks to Israel’s Operation Opera on June 7, 1981, and also its Operation Orchard on Sept. 6, 2007, neither Iraq nor Syria will be able to provide ISIS with certain game-changing kinds of destructive technology. To be sure, nuclear weapons in these areas could conceivably have made the Sunni terror organization’s End Times theology a grotesquely palpable reality.

On June 7, 1981, and without any prior forms of international approval, Israel destroyed Osiraq near Baghdad. Left intact, this Saddam Hussein-era reactor would have been able to produce enough fuel for an Iraqi nuclear weapon. Moreover, had Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin first pleadingly sought formal approvals from the “international community” — retrospectively, exactly the sort of self-defeating posture that would have been favored by Obama — that residually vital expression of self-defense would have failed.

Under international law, war and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. Although it had been conceived by Begin as an indispensable national security corrective for Israel, one desperately needed to prevent an entirely new form of Holocaust, Operation Opera ultimately saved the lives of thousands or perhaps even tens of thousands of Americans — U.S. soldiers fighting in subsequent Iraqi wars.

During the actual attack on Osiraq, Israeli fighter-bombers destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor before it was ready to go “on line.” Immediately following the attack, the general global community reaction was overwhelmingly hostile. The U.N. Security Council, in Resolution 487 of June 19, 1981, indicated that it “strongly condemns” the attack, and that “Iraq is entitled to appropriate redress for the destruction it has suffered.”

Even the United States, not yet aware that it would become a primary beneficiary of this unilaterally defensive action, issued multiple statements of conspicuously stern rebuke. Today, of course, particularly as we worry about unceasing ISIS advances, matters look very different.

International law is not a suicide pact. Israel did not act illegally at Osiraq. Under the longstanding customary right known as anticipatory self-defense, every state is entitled to strike first whenever the danger posed is “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” For such manifestly compelling action, it does not require antecedent approval by the United Nations.

For the record, it was the United States, not Israel, that issued a unilateral policy statement, in 2002, declaring that the traditional right of anticipatory self-defense should be expanded. Washington’s strategic and jurisprudential argument hinged, correctly, on the unique dangers of a nuclear-endowed enemy. Significantly, The National Security Strategy of the United States was issued by the most powerful country on earth.

In comparison, Israel, which had claimed a substantially more narrow and conservative view of anticipatory self-defense back in 1981, is small enough to fit into a single county in California.

In comparison, Israel, which faces indisputably existential threats from any nuclear adversary, could fit at least twice into Lake Michigan.

Most readers are more or less familiar with what happened at Osiraq in 1981. But what about what took place in Syria, during Operation Orchard, in 2007? In this second and later case of an Israeli preemption designed to prevent enemy nuclear weapons, the operational details are much more hazy.

In brief, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, consciously reasserted the 1981 “Begin Doctrine,” this time within the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. Several years later, in April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) authoritatively confirmed that the bombed Syrian site had indeed been a nuclear reactor. Olmert’s decision, like Begin’s earlier on, turned out to be the right one.

International law is not a suicide pact. All things considered, Israel’s 1981 and 2007 defensive strikes against enemy rogue states were not only lawful, but distinctly law-enforcing. In the absence of any truly centralized enforcement capability, international law must continue to rely upon the willingness of certain individual states to act forcefully on behalf of the entire global community. This is exactly what happened on June 7, 1981, and, again, on Sept. 6, 2007.

Israeli Operations Opera and Orchard are exactly the reason that U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria do not now have to worry about ISIS forces equipped with nuclear weapons.

Oh yes, but what about Iran? Here, lamentably — where permissible acts of preemption were renounced while they had still been operationally plausible — it will be back to pretend diplomacy. In essence, this most relentless state exporter of Shiite terrorism will thus become the jihadist nuclear power in the next few years.

Should Tehran agree to provide surrogate Hezbollah militias with some of its associated or derivative nuclear technologies, Iran could find itself marshaling considerable and potentially decisive influence in regional terror wars. These endlessly sectarian conflicts throughout Iraq, Syria and other places could then continue to rage until every remaining flower of human society is irremediably crushed. If that happens, a difficult question must inevitably arise: How should America and Israel choose between barbarously warring sides?

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Hill

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