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"Revisiting Osirak: Preventive Attacks and Nuclear Proliferation Risks"

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin gestures as he replies to international condemnation of Israel's air strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor at a news conference in Jerusalem, June 9, 1981.
AP Photo

"Revisiting Osirak: Preventive Attacks and Nuclear Proliferation Risks"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 36, issue 1, pages 101-132

Summer 2011

Author: Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2008–2010

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Managing the Atom; Quarterly Journal: International Security; Science, Technology, and Public Policy



Thirty years after the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor in June 1981 the consequences for Iraq’s nuclear weapons program remain hotly debated. A new history of this program, based on several new Iraqi sources, yields a net assessment of the impact of the Israeli attack that differs from prevailing accounts. The attack had mixed effects: it triggered a covert nuclear weapons program that did not previously exist, while necessitating a more difficult and timeconsuming technical route to developing nuclear weapons. Notwithstanding gross inefficiencies in the ensuing program, a decade later Iraq stood on the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability. This case suggests that preventive attacks can increase the long-term proliferation risk posed by the targeted state.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, "Revisiting Osirak: Preventive Attacks and Nuclear Proliferation Risks," International Security, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Summer 2011), pp. 101-132

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