Israeli pilot from Osirak raid: Only U.S. can destroy Iran’s nuclear program

Could a surprise Israeli attack like the one that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 work against Iran’s much larger nuclear infrastructure?

Israeli Brig. Gen. Relik Shafir, one of only eight pilots the air force selected to raid Osirak, offered his analysis in a recent interview during a short trip to Los Angeles.

Shafir, who was also commander of the Tel Nof Airbase and of the Hatzor Airbase’s pilot school, now serves as a foreign press spokesperson for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) during emergency situations and assists the Israel Air Force Center (IAFC), which is in Herzliya and serves as a facility for youth educational programs, including for potential IAF recruits, leadership training for IAF officers, and a think tank.

Shafir was in Los Angeles during what happened to be the 34th anniversary of the Osirak raid to raise awareness and funds for the Israel Air Force Center Foundation and the IAFC’s National Youth Leadership Training Program, which was created in 2010 and has served more than 4,000 youth and IAF cadets from some of Israel’s top technical high schools. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Jewish Journal: Did you always want to be a pilot?

Relik Shafir: I never wanted to do it, no. I wanted to be an infantry soldier, actually. But the way the selection phase goes is that you’re forced to go through the air force selection. The success rate is so low that you don’t really take it into account. And I wanted to be in a commando unit, but I never got thrown out of the flight academy. 

JJ: You were in combat in Syria and Lebanon in 1979. Can you talk about that?

RS: I had the pleasure of flying in Syria for a while, because I led the attack on a missile site that was on the Syrian side of the border. So we came in from behind, from the Syrian side, to surprise them. In that particular sortie I shot one MiG.

JJ: What can we learn from Osirak when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program?

RS: That not all problems have the same solution. Meaning that there’s only one thing more dangerous than not learning from history, which is learning from history, because history does not repeat itself. And, obviously, the Iranians had learned the weak points of the Iraqi program and they buried their program under meters and tons of concrete, and in hills, so a surprise attack like Osirak will not work. Just like in 1973, the Egyptians put their airplanes in shelters so we couldn’t bomb them. This kind of an attack is not possible on Iran.

JJ: So the IAF can’t take out Iran’s nuclear program?

RS: No.

JJ: Can any air force?

RS: The U.S. Air Force.

JJ: Only the U.S. Air Force?

RS: The U.S. Air Force can literally stand above Natanz — which is one of the largest sites — and dig a hole day after day for a month until it gets to where it needs to — craters with big bunker busters. And that’s the power of a superpower and of a strategic air force. Where we can come and do a sneak, commando-type attack. If I look at all the air forces of the world, the only one that can really do it is the U.S. Air Force.

JJ: Could ground operations take out the program?

RS: I suspect that the Iranians are expecting this and have built mechanisms to at least slow down such an attack, so that it would be so costly or so risky that it might not be worth the try.

JJ: Was there a point at which the Israeli Air Force could have significantly set back or destroyed the nuclear program?

RS: I don’t think so. They dug it underground to begin with, covered it in such a manner that it couldn’t be bombed directly in one shot. The centrifuges, which are the most important part of the program, are well hidden underground. I’m not really sure that we could’ve inflicted more than casual damage, so you can set it back six months or a year — no more.

JJ: Does Iran want a nuclear weapon so that they can use it on Israel? Or so that they could use it as leverage to strengthen their position in the region?

RS: These people are not stupid. They’re not going to commit suicide. But their main adversaries are the Saudis, Kuwaitis, countries around them — not really Iraq, because they think Iraq is in shambles anyway. They tested the Saudis and were surprised in Sana’a, where they helped the [Houthis] in Yemen overthrow the government. It didn’t work because the Saudis, all of a sudden, gathered courage and started to fight, which they didn’t expect. In Israel, it’s not that we’re not a target, but Iran is trying to acquire leverage. 

JJ: Are you concerned Iran would transfer a nuclear weapon to Hezbollah or Hamas?

RS: No. But what would happen as a repercussion [if Iran gets a nuclear weapon] is that Saudi Arabia must acquire a nuclear weapon, and it is already working on it, trying to buy a weapon from Pakistan. The Egyptians can’t stay neutral because they’re threatened as well. This may in fact turn the Middle East into a nuclear playground with all the actors trying to get themselves some nukes.

Syria says Israeli planes hit military sites near Damascus

The Syrian government claimed that Israeli planes attacked military sites near Damascus.

The attacks, also reported on Syrian television, took place on Sunday night, Syria said. Israeli planes are reported to have hit several military facilities near Damascus International Airport and in Dimas, located north of Damascus near the border with Lebanon.

Syrian state television reports said that there were no casualties.

“The Israeli enemy committed aggression against Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, in all of Dimas and near the Damascus International Airport,” the Syrian government said.

The Israel Defense Forces neither confirmed nor denied the reports on Sunday, according to Israeli media. The IDF does not comment on such accusations.

The Syrians said the attacks were further evidence that Israel was working with rebels against the Syrian government in the country’s more than three-year civil war.

The Jerusalem Post cited foreign reports that said the attack targeted a warehouse of advanced S-300 missiles that were being transported from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry sent letters to the United Nations secretary-general and to the head of the U.N. Security Council condemning Israel for the attacks, according to a report by the Syrian state news agency, SANA.

Israel reportedly has struck targets in Syria several times during Syria’s civil war. The strikes, including at least two in 2013, were reported to be an effort to stop the transport of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. Israel has not acknowledged or denied the strikes.


Syrian army accuses Israel of escalation following airstrikes

The Syrian army accused Israel of breaking international law by firing on Syrian targets in the wake of a roadside explosive that injured four Israeli soldiers, one seriously.

“We’re warning (Israel) of desperate attempts to bring to an escalation of the situation,” said a statement issued Wednesday by the Syrian military. “Repeating such hostile acts (airstrikes) would endanger the security and stability of the region and make it open to all possibilities.”

Early Wednesday morning, the Israeli Air Force bombed several targets in southern Syria. The targets were involved in an attack the previous day on an Israeli patrol and included a military training camp, an artillery battery and Syrian army headquarters in the Syrian Golan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the airstrikes, saying Wednesday at the start of a regular Cabinet meeting, “Our policy is very clear: We attack those who attack us. We are also, to the best of our ability, interdicting the transfer of weapons by sea, air and land, and this activity will continue.”

He added, “From time to time we must take vigorous action, as we are now doing, so that this quiet may continue. This vigorous policy is what is responsible for maintaining Israel’s security and that of its citizens.”

The Syrian military said one soldier was killed and seven wounded in the Israeli airstrikes.

On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces reinforced its outposts in the Golan Heights against an escalation of the violence between Israel and Syria as well as between the Syrian military and rebel forces.

The IDF is expected to increase its patrols and operations on the Syrian border in the wake of the incident and other similar incidents in recent weeks.

The art of pitching Israeli innovation to philanthropists

Flying for many years in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), made us IAF veterans somewhat skeptical of the “civilian” society. Being socialized in an organization where excellence is the norm, where nobody awards you for impeccably carrying out the most demanding mission, because they would expect nothing less from you, made it difficult for many of us to adjust in the totally different civilian environment.

Especially frustrating were the conferences, where there was hardly any focus and one couldn’t judge results because the goals were either vague or nonexistent (see President Peres’ conferences, for example), and where mingling and rubbing shoulders with celebs were the only benefits.

No wonder, then, that when I received an invitation from Joseph Hyman, Founder and President of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy (CEJP), to participate in an Israel Summit in New York, I didn’t have high expectations.

How wrong I was.

First of all, from the beginning, the goals of the Summit were crystal clear. In Hyman’s carefully drafted words, they meant “to strengthen the community of philanthropists interested in the areas of Media, Policy and the Israel Experience; to facilitate a discussion of new and powerful strategies, resulting in new collaborations that will make 1+1+1 = 5 [in the IAF 1+1+1 still equals 3, but I saw what he meant. UD]; introduce participants to new organizations and educate them; and motivate each attendee to meet with at least 2-3 organizations with the goal of providing vital investments dollars”.

Then came the impeccable organization of the Summit, the most tachlis-oriented event I have ever frequented, which led exactly to meeting these goals. In a day-and-a-half event (Jan. 23-24), modeled after Venture Capital Investment Conferences, 17 representatives of organizations with an Israeli agenda had the chance to pitch for 20 minutes sharp each, thus giving the philanthropists in the room a quick sense of what they were doing and what they needed.

The big question was: Will the philanthropists actually show up? Not only because this was an unprecedented, innovative event, but mainly because New York was hit at the time by a most severe storm. Much to our surprise and joy, they showed up, and in full force. Hyman described it vividly: “In the aftermath of last week’s 10 inch snowstorm, Mike Leven’s plane touched down at Westchester airport. It was 12:30 am and Mike, the President of the Las Vegas Sands, had come to New York for 24 hours to launch a potentially ‘game changing’ entrepreneurial venture. Earlier that day, Larry Hochberg caught the only plane out of Los Angeles for New York. He too saw the coming two days as a chance to change the face of Jewish philanthropy. In cities all across the country including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston, philanthropists, trustees and leading foundation professionals weathered the storm and traveled to New York to launch a new Venture Capital model that could ultimately drive $100 million and more in philanthropic investments into the Jewish world and Israel”.

The Summit itself went smoothly, with some 75 philanthropist listening to this exceptional parade of high-powered presentations, as well as to speeches by Ron Prossor, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, and others. Over meals and cocktails, deals were made. When Sandy Frankel, the trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust ($4 BILLION to give away), encouraged representatives of Israeli-oriented organizations to come to him with ideas, people knew that they were part of a serious business indeed.

Hyman, always a man of grand style, summed up the Summit: “If Birthright taught us that we can change the paradigm, then CEJP is committed to ‘kicking down the door’ in our quest for ‘Wall Street’ type products that will drive tens of millions of dollars of Jewish philanthropic investments into the Jewish world. In the coming weeks you will begin to see CEJP unveil a series of ‘game changing’ initiatives with potential for enormous impact.”

Wow. And there is more: “For those who braved the snow and reaffirmed their enormous commitment to the State of Israel, last week’s Summit was no disappointment… and in the future, when CEJP will have completed 20-30 Summits, they will be able to tell their children and grandchildren ‘I was there at the first one… and made history’.”

Is Hyman exaggerating? Being there, feeling the energy and already getting tangible results from the Summit, I don’t think he is.

Uri Dromi is the Director General of the Jerusalem Press Club (JPC).

Retaliating Israel targets Gaza rocket launchers

The Israeli Air Force targeted two concealed rocket launchers in northern Gaza hours after a mortar attack from the coastal strip.

A statement Thursday from the Israel Defense Forces did not say if the launchers were destroyed by its aircraft.

On Thursday morning, Palestinians fired two mortars from central Gaza into Israel, the IDF said. The mortars were aiming for Israeli soldiers patroling the border area, according to Ynet.

“Launching rockets against Israel and its civilians is a breach of our sovereignty,” said IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. “We maintain the right to operate against those who are involved in terror.”

The mortar fire occurred on the first anniversary of Pillar of Defense, the Israeli army operation in Gaza launched to stop frequent rocket strikes on southern Israel.

Report: Israel bombed Syrian weapons convoy bound for Lebanon

Israel Air Force jets bombed a convoy carrying advanced missiles from Syria to Lebanon, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported.

The Arabic language Al-Jarida daily cited an unnamed Israeli security official as saying the missiles were intended for the terrorist group Hezbollah.  The report, which has not been confirmed by another independent news source, did not say if the attack was in Syrian or Lebanese territory, only that it was on the border of the two countries.

The Lebanese media have not reported on any recent Israeli strikes.

Reports of heavy Israeli drone activity and over flights of Lebanon were reported over the weekend.

Israel was accused earlier this year of bombing weapons warehouses and convoys in Syria of arms meant for Hezbollah.

Israel Air Force advertises jets’ drilling of long-range ‘military option’

The Israeli Air Force posted photos and a video of a long-range missions exercise in a move widely interpreted as a warning aimed at Iran.

The footage posted Thursday on YouTube shows the aerial refueling of two warplanes, an F-15 and an F-16, from several angles, including from within the cockpit. The photos, which were posted along with the video on the Hebrew-language version of the Israel Air Force website, show three fighter jets accompanying a fueling plane at an unspecified location.

“’All options on the table’ means also military options,’” the item on the website read, in what foreign and local media interpreted as a clear allusion to Israel’s quest to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons capabilities. “The air force, the long arm of the Israel Defense Forces, is tasked with carrying out that option if necessary.”

Iran has denied that it is pursuing plans to develop nuclear weapons.

According to Haaretz, Greece’s air force also participated in the drill.

Israeli Air Force strikes Gaza targets in response to rocket fire on south

The Israeli Air Force struck targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Thursday, a day after Palestinian militants fired about a dozen rockets and mortars across the border.

Hamas, which controls the Strip, said the Israeli airstrike targeted smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, as well as one of its training camps in central Gaza.

An Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson confirmed the air strike, saying that it was in response to the rockets fired at southern Israel.

A third strike hit a power transformer, causing blackouts in the area, Gaza witnesses said. Medical workers said no one was injured in the strikes.


Astronaut Ilan Ramon’s son dies in IAF crash

The son of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon was killed in the crash of an Israeli Air Force fighter plane.

Capt. Assaf Ramon, 20, died Sunday while flying the F-16 aircraft as part of advanced training. He had completed the training course for pilots with honors in June, receiving his wings from President Shimon Peres. He had escaped death in a training flight in March.

His father, Israel’s first astronaut, was killed aboard the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 2003 when it broke apart upon its return to earth.

The Air Force ordered all F-16 training halted until further notice. The plane crashed in the Hebron Hills.

Ilan Ramon himself was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and participated in the 1981 strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Assaf Ramon, the oldest of four children, was 15 when his father died. He had said he would like to become a pilot like his father and perhaps even an astronaut.

VIDEO: IAF destroys Iraqi nuclear reactor, June 1981

The story of the IAF’s attack on the Iraqi Nuclear reactor near Baghdad in June 1981.

From The Military channel

Advice for Israeli Filmmakers

I’m sitting in the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet on an Israeli Air Force (IAF)base. A friend of mine is an F-16 fighter pilot, an American-born Israeli who just finished his MBA at Harvard Business School and is doing his monthly stint in the reserves. He knew that I had just sold a project about the formation of the IAF to Dreamworks’ ImageMovers, a subsidiary owned by Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke.

Dan Gordon ("Hurricane") is the writer. This is a project dear to our hearts, since both Dan and I have deep Israeli roots. Dan, an American, volunteered to join the IAF in October 1973.

The movie is about two very different American guys who have to con their way through a series of adventures in order to get the necessary military equipment to arm the not-yet-formed IAF. It’s "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" with Nazis, Spitfires and a 10,000-man Egyptian infantry unit marching on Tel Aviv.

The din of the F-16s taking off and landing nonstop throughout the morning, made me wonder why an Israeli movie producer had not thought of our idea before. The story of the foundation of the Israeli Air Force is part and parcel of the Israeli patrimony, a resident of the country’s collective memory. How could they not see it?

I came to Israel to teach the Tel Aviv master class in creative producing this summer at the behest of Jean Friedman of Los Angeles, whom I met through one of my oldest friends, Rita Spiegel. Friedman is co-chair, along with Mickey Yerushalmi, of the Culture Committee of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

This is the partnership’s third annual master class; the first two were on directing and screenwriting. Previously I had delivered one-shot lectures on the art of "pitching" at USC for various friends who were teaching courses in film at the university.

Pitching — essentially presenting the minimal form of a screenplay is a tool used by writers, directors and producers in Hollywood to get a deal to write a screenplay. In nearly 30 years in the business, I have developed a reputation — or so I am told — as one of the best pitchers in Hollywood.

I’d never taught a whole course about the movie business as it is practiced in Hollywood today, so I asked my good friend Susan Landau, who taught this same course at USC, to join me.

Israel is hardly a foreign country to me. My parents, who were both born in Jerusalem and are sixth-generation sabras, had just retuned to Israel themselves. My sister, along with her husband and five children, made aliyah two years ago. They are haredim, who live in Ramot Beit Shemesh.

Susan and I had done a lot of preparatory work and created a syllabus that essentially outlined the way Hollywood works. We were assisted by U.S. program coordinator and USC directing teacher Mary Beth Fielder and filmmaker Ilil Alexander, who was producing the course in Tel Aviv.

The students, who were all professionals in the 25-31 age range, had day jobs and were all involved in the Israeli film and television business in some capacity.

We had to explain the fundamentals of the system: the modern studio system and the players who function within that infrastructure; the roles of agents, managers, lawyers, producers, directors, public relations handlers, journalists and actors; and the complex interrelationships between all those entities and the studio system.

We explained the art of the pitch and how to do it, spending several days with each of the students and ruthlessly preparing them to do it themselves. We went over the entire process: selling an idea and developing it into a screenplay, making and structuring a deal, contracts and delivery requirements, finding writers, the process of rewriting, the making of lists, the attachment of talent (actors and directors), the budget process, getting a project greenlighted, preproduction, production, postproduction and marketing and distribution.

We showed the students how to write coverage, a sort of book report that tells, in two or three pages, the story of a screenplay plus the reader’s evaluation of whether the screenplay will make a viable movie; how to write story synopses; how to write letters to all the executives in Hollywood (in English) and everything else that goes into the miraculous process of "getting it on," that is, getting the picture onto the screen.

"Less is more" became my mantra, and after drilling and redrilling the students day in and day out, they were finally able to understand the full professional requirements of what it takes to get an idea to the screen.

We also entertained them with true, absurd, hilarious and pathetic anecdotes of each of our various experiences making our own movies. Naturally, the students enjoyed those the most, gossip and salacious stories being the lingua franca that all could understand and relate to.

Saturday night at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, we screened "The Celluloid Closet," an award-winning documentary I had produced. The room was not quite full: the terrorist bombing at the Dolphinarium had occurred the night before — I could see the wreckage from my hotel room’s window — and some people had stayed home, shaken by the tragedy.

Yerushalmi welcomed us and cheered our bravery in coming to Israel despite the events of the past eight months, but it had never occurred to me not to come.

The course started first thing Sunday morning. There were 20 Israelis and seven Americans. The whining and complaining about the Israeli film system very soon turned into a roar.

The Israeli film business is stagnant and in crisis — obviously not the country’s biggest problem, but a frusturation to many eager and talented filmmakers. Listening to these young men and women, hearing their pessimism and cynicism, depressed me.

I finally blurted out, "What happened to the people that created a vibrant nation out of sand? What happened to the people that created the finest and most sophisticated air force in the world? What happened to the people who created the best army in the world? What happened to Theodor Herzl’s inspiring dictum, ‘Im tirtzu, ein zo aggada’ [If you will it, it shall be no legend]?"

I told them what I thought, and they looked at me as if I were some crazy Zionist from the States who was still living in 1955, singing the "Song of the Pioneer," wearing a kibbutz cap and passing along a finjan.

The movie business in America, I told them, is the toughest business in the world, filled with untold rejection. I told them they should imagine me at the head of a big pool, with a huge wooden board in my hands, and that they are all in the pool. Anytime anyone attempted to get out, I would smash them down with the board. It was their job to figure out how to circumvent the board and get out of the pool.

That’s what the movie business is all about, I said. If they couldn’t take it, they should sell shoes in Holon. The students looked at me in shock.

I told them the roughest "war stories" they ever heard. By the time we finished the two weeks, I had strong, strapping former IDF soldiers in tears, thanking me for giving them one of the great lessons of their lives.

What I began to sense was that the film industry in Israel is government-sponsored, so it’s like being a Soviet artist — and being on the dole.

All government-sponsored films have to be made in Hebrew. But if a teenager in Netanya goes out on a Friday night and has to spend the equivalent of $16 for himself and his gal, he’s not going to see a movie about a depressed girl on a kibbutz in 1954 who howls at the moon. He’s going to plunk down his $16 to see Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible II" or Brendan Fraser in "The Mummy Returns" — big American movies with big American movie stars!

What has to happen to revivify the Israeli film industry is the creation of a consortium of producers who would raise money the same way the Hollywood moguls of old did it (the Sam Goldwyns, the Louis B. Mayers); the way the new moguls do it (the Barry Dillers, the David Geffens, the Jeffrey Katzenbergs): as entrepreneurs, by raising a fund that would just develop movies.

Since in Israel there is no culture of story development and a very sparse infrastructure of story editors and development executives, along with few agents, no managers and just a scattering of entertainment lawyers, they have to build an infrastructure along the paradigm of the Hollywood way, instead of following the European model, where the director holds total sway, plot is at a minimum, and character studies and esoteric, painterly tone-poem movies are the norm.

I also thought about the Hebrew problem. If 50 percent of the development fund were to go to develop Hebrew-speaking movies, you can preserve the tarbut ha’yisraeli (the Hebrew culture).

But the other half should go to develop English-language movies. There’s no reason Israel can’t develop its own versions of "Jagged Edge" and "Basic Instinct," or even a franchise like "The Mummy." Then Israeli filmmakers could bring their developed scripts to partner-producers in Hollywood and have them packaged with American movie stars.

Susan tempered my passion by suggesting that at the same time, an Israeli Sundance Institute should be created to develop Israeli versions of "Il Postino" and "Life Is Beautiful" and "Cinema Paradiso" on the model of the French film institute Equinox, which itself is modeled on the Sundance paradigm. Susan herself participates in the Equinox program.

I also suggested that the Israelis should study the Canadian and Australian models, which are hybrid government-private enterprise organizations. All in all, I think we stirred up local attitudes and got them started thinking in new ways.

I suggested to The Federation, with Ilil Alexander’s support, that if they let Susan and me do this for five years, at the end of those five years we’ll have trained 120 film producers in the American way of developing a screenplay. If 60 students go on to be working producers, and if 10 of those students become very successful, Israel will have a thriving film industry in 10 years.

After all, are we not the People of the Book? Did we not practically invent the art of storytelling? Hello! Genesis! Hello! Exodus! Hello! the Tanach! Hello! Chassidic shpielmeisters! Hello! Hollywood! Im tirtzu, ein zo aggada!