Israel's role in the Iran–Iraq war

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Allegations of Israel's support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq war refer to the military support such as arms sales allegedly provided by Israel to Iran during the Iran–Iraq War from 1980 to 1988.

Arms supply[edit]

According to Ronen Bergman, Israel sold Iran US$75 million worth of arms from stocks of Israel Military Industries, Israel Aircraft Industries and Israel Defense Forces stockpiles, in their Operation Seashell in 1981.[1] Materiel included 150 M-40 antitank guns with 24,000 shells for each gun, spare parts for tank and aircraft engines, 106 mm, 130 mm, 203 mm and 175 mm shells and TOW missiles. This material was transported first by air by Argentine airline Transporte Aéreo Rioplatense and then (after the 1981 Armenia mid-air collision) by ship.

According to Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian-American Council, Israeli support for Iran consisted of several elements:[2]

  • Arms sales to Iran that totaled an estimated $500 million from 1981 to 1983 according to the Jafe Institute for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Most of it was paid for by Iranian oil delivered to Israel.[2]:107 "According to Ahmad Haidari, "an Iranian arms dealer working for the Khomeini regime, roughly 80% of the weaponry bought by Tehran" immediately after the onset of the war originated in Israel.[2]:106
  • Arms shipments from the U.S. to Iran in the Iran-Contra Affair facilitated by Israel.
  • Israel's June 7, 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor which set back Iraq's nuclear program. In fact, Iran bombed them first, back in 1980, but they only damaged secondary buildings.[3]
  • Israel is also reported to have supplied instructors and non-armaments help to Iran for the war effort.

According to Mark Phythian, the fact "that the Iranian air force could function at all" after Iraq's initial attack and "was able to undertake a number of sorties over Baghdad and strike at strategic installations" was "at least partly due to the decision of the Reagan administration to allow Israel to channel arms of US origin to Iran to prevent an easy and early Iraqi victory."[4]

Israeli arms dealer Yaacov Nimrodi apparently signed a deal with Iran's Ministry of National Defense to sell $135,842,000 worth of arms, including Lance missiles, Copperhead shells and Hawk missiles.[5][6] In March 1982, The New York Times cited documents indicating that Israel had supplied half or more of all arms reaching Tehran in the previous 18 months, amounting to at least $100 million in sales. The Milan weekly Panorama reported that Israel had sold the Khomeini regime 45,000 Uzi submachine guns, anti-tank missile launchers, missiles, howitzers and aircraft replacement parts. "A large part of the booty from the PLO during the 1982 Lebanon campaign wound up in Tehran," the magazine claimed.[5]

Destruction of Osirak reactor[edit]

Further information: Operation Opera

On 7 June 1981, a squadron of Israeli Air Force F-16A fighter aircraft, with an escort of F-15As, bombed and heavily damaged the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. According to journalist Nicholas Kristof, had it not been for the attack, "Iraq would have gained nuclear weapons in the 1980s, it might now have a province called Kuwait and a chunk of Iran, and the region might have suffered nuclear devastation."[7] The reactor was part of Iraq's weapon program as had been reported on September 8, 1975, then-Vice President Saddam Hussein declared publicly that the acquisition of the French reactors was the first actual step in the production of an Arab atomic weapon. The deal with the French reportedly initially included the shipment of 7% enriched uranium, but was nixed after "heavy economic pressure" was exerted on the French from the oil-rich Iraqis to instead include 75 kilograms of 93% pure enriched uranium, the likes of which is theoretically sufficient for the production of "five or six" nuclear bombs, and would have put the Iraqis much closer to the production of such a weapon.[8] The Iranian Revolution accelerated Saddam's interest in atomic bombs and he ordered his scientists directly, in December 1979, to build them. Political scientist Dan Reiter has argued that if Osirak had not been destroyed, Iraq would have had become a nuclear state and Saddam would have taken over a large chunk of Iranian territory, as well as Kuwait.[9] The United States would have preferred that Iraq, controlled by what they viewed as a less volatile regime than Iran, would replace Iran as a major "stabilizing force" in the region, and therefore refrained from objecting to the country's nuclear ambitions.[8]

Other aid[edit]

According to John Bulloch and Harvey Morris, the Israelis devised and manufactured the huge, lightweight polystyrene blocks which the Iranian assault forces carried with them to build instant makeshift causeways across the shallow Iraqi water defences in front of Basra; Israel kept Iranian planes flying in spite of a lack of spares; and Israeli instructors taught Iranian commanders how to handle troops.

Despite all the speeches of Iranian leaders and the denunciation of Israel at Friday prayers, there were never less than around one hundred Israeli advisers and technicians in Iran at any time throughout the war, living in a carefully guarded and secluded camp just north of Tehran, where they remained even after the ceasefire.[10]

In August 1982 Aerospace Daily reported that Israel's support was "crucial" to keeping Iran's air force flying against Iraq. Israeli sales also included spare parts for U.S.-made F-4 Phantom jets. Newsweek also reported that after an Iranian defector landed his F-4 Phantom jet in Saudi Arabia in 1984, intelligence experts determined that many of its parts had originally been sold to Israel, and had then been re-exported to Tehran in violation of U.S. law.[5]


According to Bergman, Israel's goals were to: reestablish some influence in Iran which was lost when the Shah was defeated in 1979; intensify the Iran-Iraq War and weaken both Iran and Iraq, both of whom opposed the existence of Israel; prevent Iraq from conquering Iran as they feared a victorious Saddam Hussein; and create business for the Israeli weapons industry[11]

Trita Parsi writes that Israel supplied Iran with arms and ammunition because it viewed Iraq as a danger to the peace process in the Middle East. Ariel Sharon believed it was important to "leave a small window open" to the possibility of good relations with Iran in the future.[2] According to David Menashri of Tel Aviv University, a leading expert on Iran, "Throughout the 1980s, no one in Israel said anything about an Iranian threat - the word wasn't even uttered."[2]:104 Parsi explained in an interview with Diane Rehm that despite the anti-Israeli rhetoric publicly displayed by Iran, in actuality, the two nations secretly depended upon the support of one another to face the formidable opposition of both Iraq and the Soviet Union. He cites as evidence the fact that this relationship endured despite the ramped up rhetoric that was brought about by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, up until the collapse of the Soviet Union and destruction of the Iraqi military by the U.S. in the Persian Gulf War, both in 1991. Though he claims that Iran long used Israel as a means to create unified pan-Islamic, anti-Israel sentiment through which all the Muslim countries in the region could be unified under Iranian leadership, Israel and Iran, he argues, only truly began to see each other as strategic rivals after the threat of Soviet Union fell away, and after Iraq no longer could serve as a power check in the region.[12]

Another source argues that Israel saw the Persian Gulf War as an opportunity to ensure the safety of the Persian Jewish community which it believed was at risk. At the time of the revolution in Iran, there were 80,000 Jews in the country. They were a recognised minority along with Christians and Zoroastrians in Iran, which in general had suffered no persecution and had been able to continue their affairs undisturbed. The fundamentalism of Khomeini put all that at risk. Clandestine support of Iran ensured the safety of the Jewish community and allowed thousands to emigrate; it also contributed substantially to Iran's successful defence of its borders.[13]

Iranian denial[edit]

During and after the war, Iranian officials denied they had received help from Israel which they denounced as an "illegitimate state".[2]:82 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran during the war, angrily denied that Israeli arms were sent to Iran. In a speech on August 24, 1981, he maintained that Iran's enemies were trying to undermine the Islamic Revolution by spreading false rumors of Israeli-Iranian cooperation. He alleged that while Israel had bombed and destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear facilities in 1981, this was because Saddam Hussein was actually an ally of Israel who "forced" Israel to destroy his own nuclear facilities:

"They are accusing us of importing arms from Israel. This is being said against a country which rose to oppose this condemned Zionist claim from the very beginning ... For over twenty years, in speeches and statements, we have spoken of Israel and its oppression, whereas a great many Islamic countries did not even take a step along this road in opposing Israel. This man Saddam who resorted to play-acting and, as reported, forced Israel to bomb his [nuclear] center in order to save himself from the disgrace he himself created by attacking Islamic Iran—his aim in doing this was to camouflage this crime and give the impression that Israel opposes Saddam, ... That is childish nonsense."[2]:108

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ronen Bergman, The Secret War with Iran, Free Press, 2008, p.40-48
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Parsi, Trita Treacherous Alliance: The secret dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States, by Trita Parsi, Yale University Press, 2007
  3. ^ Jones, Nate. "Document Friday: When Iran Bombed Iraq's Nuclear Reactor". NSA Archive. Retrieved 4 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Phythian, Mark. Arming Iraq : How the U.S. and Britain Secretly Built Saddam's War Machine, p.20
  5. ^ a b c Scott, Peter Dale, The Iran-Contra Connection: Secret Teams and Covert Operations in Reagan Era, 1987, South End Press, p. 169-174
  6. ^ Jane Hunter, November 1986, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Israeli Arms Sales to Iran
  7. ^ Nicholas Kristof, ‘‘The Osirak Option,’’ New York Times, Nov. 15, 2002, p. A31.
  8. ^ a b Dowell, William (31 July 1980). "Iraqi-French nuclear deal worries Israel". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Bulloch, John, The Gulf War : Its Origins, History and Consequences by John Bulloch and Harvey Morris, London : Methuen London, 1989, p.17
  11. ^ Bergman, Secret War, 2008, p.43-44
  12. ^ Rehm, Diane (8 October 2007). treacherous-alliance-yale "Trita Parsi: "Treacherous Alliance" (Yale)" Check |url= value (help). The Diane Rehm Show. National Public Radio. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Bulloch, John, The Gulf War, (1989), p.17