At dawn on September 30, 1980 four American-made F-4E Phantom jets screamed low over central Iraq, each laden with air-to-air missiles and three thousand pounds of bombs.
Prior to entering Iraqi airspace they had rendezvoused for aerial refueling with a Boeing 707 tanker escorted by two more advanced F-14 Tomcat fighters—the type immortalized six years later in the film Top Gun. And to complete the eighties action-movie vibe, they were embarked on a mission codenamed ‘Operation Scorched Sword.’
The skimming Phantoms climbed briefly to higher altitude so as to appear on Iraqi radars, before ducking back down to hit the deck. But while two decoy Phantoms maintained their trajectory towards Baghdad, the other two veered southwards towards the real target: Iraq’s Osirak light-water nuclear reactor.
The jets were undertaking the first air-strike against a nuclear reactor, and the first preemptive air-strike attempting to prevent a country from developing nuclear weapons capability. In fact, the only preceding attack on nuclear facilities occurred during World War II when British commandoes successfully sabotaged Nazi heavy water research facilities in Norway.
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