Reenacting Operation "Opera"

11.06.2019 | Noa Rokni | Photography: Amit Agronov
Last week, the IAF marked 38 years since Operation "Opera", one of the force's most daring operations. In honor of the occasion, several pilots who participated in the operation reenacted the event alongside both present and future pilots

Shavuot Eve – the IAF's recently integrated "Barak" (F-16) fighter jets fly quietly alongside the force's "Baz" (F-15) aircraft. The "Opera" has begun – an operation with the goal of destroying the Iraqi nuclear reactor, one of the air force's most daring operations.

Last week, 38 years later, several of the participating aircrews met with Israeli teenagers who have the dream of becoming future aircrews in order to protect their country, and together, they reenacted the mythological operation.

Doing the Impossible
"The 'Barak' aircraft was integrated in 1980", said Col. (Res') Ze'ev Raz, leader of the operation. "Before they arrived, then IAF Commander David Ivry called me to his office; he told me that the Iraqis were building a nuclear reactor near Baghdad and that the IAF was thinking up ways to attack it".

Col. (Res') Raz and the rest of the crewmembers began planning the operation. "At the time, we weren't capable of refueling the 'Barak' jets in the air – this rendered the strike impossible, because we couldn't carry enough fuel for the required flight time. When I returned to the squadron I asked my navigations officer – Capt. Ilan Ramon, who went on to become the first Israeli astronaut – to check if the operation was possible", elaborated Col. (Res') Raz. "Ilan did calculations and drew maps, and several hours later he came to me and told me that it was almost possible. Reaching Baghdad wasn't a problem, but we lacked a small amount of fuel in order to get back home safely".

The planning team finally managed to take care of the discrepancy, and the mission ended up being performed successfully without a single malfunction, even after King Hussein – located in his yacht – saw the Israeli jets pass overhead. "No one expected that the operation would end this way, without even the smallest error", said Col. (Res') Raz, before continuing laughingly: "The funniest thing was, afterwards, when we flew the airplanes from Etzion AFB to Ramat-David AFB, we found a small number of malfunctions. It was as if the aircraft knew that they were now allowed to behave normally".

Across Generations
The reenactment was performed in a civil flight simulator named "The Squadron", with the participants spread across three generations. These included David Ivry; Tal Ramon, Ilan Ramon's son, who piloted the eighth aircraft in the formation just like his father did; and Roni Ben Hur, a 15-year-old girl with the dream of becoming a future pilot in the IAF.

"Before the reenactment, we learned about the operation and its significance", said Roni. "Flying alongside the aircrew members who participated in the original operation was very exciting. They are the force's history incarnate, and we got to experience one of the IAF's most important operations alongside them".

Back in Time
Just before commencing their flight, the pilots gathered for a short brief in order to go over the planned scenario. Right afterwards they entered the simulators, each one in their own "Barak". With their senses in check, the aircrews took off towards Baghdad, and for just several minutes, they were back in 1981. The simulation tried to include even the smallest details – King Hussein's yacht included – in order to provide an experience as realistic as possible.

Col. (Res') K', who founded the simulator, was a cadet at the IAF Flight Academy during Col. (Res') Raz's service as Flight Academy Commander. "The reenactment wasn't easy, seeing as the operation itself was considerably complicated", said Col. (Res') K'. "However, getting in the cockpit and leading a four-aircraft formation with David, Tal and Roni was especially exciting".

"I'm glad the reenactment wasn't about aircraft and technology, but about values, courage and the spirit of the air force. These things existed in the air force in the past, and they exist to this day", concluded Col. (Res') K'. "Our goal is to connect the future generation to stories from the past, through which they may find their personal courses in life as well as the courage to handle the challenges the future has in store".