In the mid-seventies, Iraq, by then for some years already under firm control of Saddam Hussein and his Baath party, purchased a 40MW light water nuclear reactor from France. The controversy surrounding the feasibility of making sufficient plutonium for a nuclear weapon using this reactor, in a sufficiently short time, continues to this day. The regime claimed the reactor was for peaceful purposes only, but given the track record of Saddam's Iraq, such a claim was doubtful at best. The regime was perhaps even lured into thinking, by the French engineers, that the Osirak reactor was indeed capable of producing plutonium for a ncuclear weapon.
In any case, since the founding of the Jewish state Iraq had shown itself to be viciously hostile, on several occasions launching its armies against Israel. This had happened as early as 1948. To trust such a state to make inroads in nuclear technology without taking precautions against a nuclear strike would have been foolish. When intense diplomatic efforts to make France and Italy stop its assistance in building the reactor failed, the israeli government decided to bomb the site to rubble.
This was the daring Osirak raid, dubbed 'Operation Opera'. On June 7, 1981, six F-15A's and eight F-16A's took off from Eitzion AFB, crossed Jordanian and Saudi airspace, and destroyed the Osirak reactor. One of the F-16 pilots was Ilan Ramon, who would become Israels first astronaut and who would be tragically killed in the 2003 Columbia disaster.
This is the story of Operation Opera: