Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin would have turned 99 years old today. He leaves an extremely complex legacy between his role in the Irgun, which targeted the British during the Mandate era, to his place as a peacemaker (and Nobel Laureate) following the Camp David Accords. He was a key participant in the famous Altalena Affair and oversaw the ill-fated invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
However, one specific part of his legacy stands out today for its past-as-prologue familiarity: Begin’s role in the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, which initially earned Israel universal condemnation. As Seth Lipsky wrote for Tablet:
Certainly there was plenty of concern about what Iraq was up to, but the long public debate, the hand-wringing, the threats, the counter-threats, the journalistic chorus about what a terrible thing a pre-emptive attack would be, how dangerous, none of this happened. One day Iraq had a nuclear reactor. The next day it didn’t. The attack was met with the usual outrage, but then a funny thing happened, and the tide began to turn in Israel’s favor, in part because Menachem Begin had no apologies.
Earlier this summer, Niv Ellis also wrote a fantastic family history piece about how his grandfather collaborated with Begin to blow up the King David Hotel.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.