NEWS
30/12/2011 04:19 GMT | Updated 28/02/2012 05:12 GMT

National Archive Files: Americans 'Stunned' By Israel's 1981 Attack On Iraqi Nuclear Reactor

The Americans were stunned by Israel's decision to launch air strikes against an Iraqi nuclear reactor, according to official papers made public today.

Despite their close alliance, the US had no warning of the attack on the Osirak reactor in June 1981 ordered by Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin amid fears that Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Files released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule show that Britain's ambassador to Washington, Sir Nicholas Henderson, was with US defence secretary Caspar Weinberger as the news came in.

"Weinberger says that he thinks Begin must have taken leave of his senses. He is much disturbed by the Israeli reaction and possible consequences," Sir Nicholas cabled London.

Britain's ambassador in Baghdad, Sir Stephen Egerton, disclosed that the Iraqis had been just as surprised when the Israeli F15 fighters appeared in their skies.

"The diplomatic corps had a ringside view of the belated ack-ack and missile reactions to the raid when we were gathered for the Italian national day reception on the Bund," he wrote.

"The raiders had gone but the fireworks were spectacular."