Court okays auction of control stick from Israeli jet that bombed Iraqi reactor

In petition, state argued that the item has historical value, was taken without permission, but judge notes air force had sent it for recycling anyway

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 can go up for auction, a court has ruled, rejecting a petition by the state to block the sale.

The stick from an F-16 plane, which includes the red weapons release button, is being offered with an asking price of $50,000.

A report on its imminent sale last November raised objections, including from pilots who took part in the mission.

The IDF and the Defense Ministry then asked the state prosecution to file a petition against the sale, whereupon the Lod District Court issued an injunction blocking the auction.

However, the court eventually decided that the stick can be sold, Ynet reported Wednesday. The court also ordered the state to cover legal costs amounting to NIS 15,000 ($4,787).

The state had argued that the item is “a cultural asset of seminal importance in the history of the State of Israel” and was related to “a significant event” in the country’s history. There was, therefore, “public, cultural, research and historical value to prevent its sale to private hands,” the petition argued.

However, in court, the state admitted that the joystick had been taken out of service and sent to be junked and recycled for its raw materials. The court noted that defense officials apparently did not even bother checking if the stick was destroyed; otherwise the part could not have reached the seller through unauthorized channels.

The court also rejected a claim that it was stolen or taken without permission because no complaint had been filed with police.

State prosecutors said they would study the ruling before considering further action.

Pentagon Auctions, the website selling the stick, welcomed the ruling.

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

The stick up for auction is 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 Ynet, the side-control stick comes from plane number 129, which was flown by Col. (Res) Hagai Katz.

The seller, who has asked to remain anonymous, told the news site in November that 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 last 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, has 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 month that the stick was taken out of service.

Plane 129 was recently sold to a United States company that supplies training services to the US Air Force, according to the Ynet report.

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