Israel's contentious political parties united Friday in a heartfelt, postwar gesture of gratitude to ailing former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, thanking him for ordering the destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor nearly 10 years ago.
Exactly 100 of the 120 members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, signed a message of appreciation to Begin, 77, who is under treatment for a variety of ailments at a Tel Aviv hospital.Begin authorized the Israeli air force to launch a pre-emptive strike on June 7, 1981, on the nearly completed Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. American and other officials have said that the action, highly controversial at the time, prevented Iraq from wielding nuclear weapons during the Persian Gulf war.
"We the undersigned Knesset members of various political parties wish to thank you for your initiative in sending the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Air Force into action in 1981 to attack and destroy the nuclear reactor in Iraq," the message said.
Signers of the declaration spanned all elements of Israel's political spectrum and included many of Begin's most vocal opponents when he served as prime minister from 1977 to 1983.
Shimon Peres, leader of the left-wing Labor Party and an opponent of the action in 1981, did not sign the message.
A Begin aide delivered the document to Begin's hospital room and said the former prime minister was delighted by the gesture.