Auction of joystick from Israeli jet that bombed Iraqi reactor fires up dispute

Pilots who flew 1981 Osirak bombing raid divided on sale of part from F-16 being offered by anonymous owner; one says its ‘sad,’ but mission commander doesn’t object

The view of the Iraqi nuclear reactor as seen on the screen of one of the attacking F-16s. (Photo credit: IDF/AF via Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash90)
The view of the Iraqi nuclear reactor as seen on the screen of one of the attacking F-16s. (Photo credit: IDF/AF via Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash90)

The control stick from an Israeli warplane that took part in the famous mission to bomb an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 is to go up for auction.

The stick from an F-16 plane, which includes the red weapons release button, will be sold at the end of the week with an asking price of $50,000.

Pilots who flew the Operation Opera mission are divided on whether or not the side-control stick should be sold off, the Ynet website reported Wednesday.

Col. (Res) Zeev Raz, the squadron commander at the time who led the mission that blew up Saddam Hussein’s reactor at Osirak , said he had no feelings one way or the other.

“I don’t object to the sale of the stick and am also not in favor,” he told Ynet. “If anyone wants to sell it, that’s totally fine.”

Raz said he also has a control stick from the mission.

“I will not sell it because for me it is an emotional keepsake, it is priceless,” he said.

However, Brig. Gen. (Res) Amir Nachumi, who was also a pilot on the mission, said he “totally disapproves.”

“It is very sad that someone is selling an object like that,” he said. “There are many people who have access to items like that or use that ability to make money — that is something that really saddens me.”

Nachumi speculated that the seller pulled some strings at the time in order to get possession of the part.

Screen capture from video of an F-16 side-control stick. (YouTube)

The stick up for auction is currently owned by a former senior member of the Israel Air Force’s 117th Squadron that carried out the mission to destroy the reactor.

A total of eight F-16 jets carried out the bombing runs on the reactor in the June 7, 1981 raid.

According to the report, the side-control stick comes from plane number 129 that was flown by Col. (Res) Hagai Katz.

The seller, who has asked to remain anonymous, told Ynet he came into possession of the stick “through squadron personnel, and I would rather say no more because it’s a sensitive subject.”

He justified the asking price by claiming that earlier this year a part of a jet with the symbol of an Israeli squadron on it that went down in the 1950s was sold in Europe for $60,000.

The sale is being run by Pentagon Auctions together with Garage Sale Collection.

Eyal Ilya, of Pentagon Auctions, said he expects the stick to go for much more than the asking price and that he has already received an offer of $100,000, which was declined.

The joystick, which appears worn, has two sets of numbers etched into it. One is a date, 5.6.81, the day before the bombing of the reactor. The other, partially faded, is 12.81, which is believed to indicate the date that the stick was taken out of service.

Plane 129 was sold at the beginning of this year to a United States company that supplies training services to the US Air Force, according to the Ynet report.

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