Court Rejects Gov’t Bid to Freeze Sale of Plane Part That Bombed Iraqi Reactor

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
The plane which took part in the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.
The plane which took part in the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.Credit: Yuval Tebol
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Central District Court in Lod this week rejected a petition from the government to stop the public auction of the steering control belonging to a warplane said to have been part of the 1981 bombing of the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor.

The government, which claimed the F-16 steering control, commonly known as a stick, is a cultural asset. But Judge Jacob Spasser ruled that the state had not treated the component as if it was of any value. In addition, the government was unsuccessful in proving it had any property rights to it.

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In November, Pentagon Auctions of Petah Tikva, in cooperation with Garage Sale, announced it would sell the object at auction, with a starting price of $50,000. The Defense Ministry petitioned the court, asking it to issue a temporary injunction halting the sale. The ministry asserted that the controller was military property that had been taken illegally and potentially represented a “cultural asset that is a part of the history of the State of Israel, and has cultural, research and historical value.” It said it should not be sold to a private buyer.

In ruling against the government, Spasser asked how the state could claim the component was an important property when, by its own admission, it had thrown it away. The judge said that if the claim was valid, the government should have kept and preserved the steering control the way it keeps other national assets.

The plane's stick.

The government told the court that a Defense Ministry examination could not determine whether the object being auctioned was really part of an air force plane that participated in Operation Opera, as the raid on the Iraq facility was called. But it is clear that the object had been used in Israel Air Force planes until 2013, when it was sent to an air force facility for destruction.

The auctioneers argued that the person who was selling the item had served in an air force squadron and had received it from members of another squadron that had been in the raid.

“It would be proper for the state to examine in its records to determine what had happened to it and in doing so establish its origin,” said the sellers through their attorney, Ronen Ben Zvi. Similar items, such as pilots’ helmets and airplane parts, were given as gifts by the army to military officers and were “an accepted custom in the Air Force,” he noted.

“I spoke with the pilots, and almost every one of them has a stick in their home,” said one of the people behind the sale.

Accepting the auctioneers’ arguments, the court refused to issue an order freezing the sale. “The evidence seems to be inadequate to prove the state is the owner of the property rights to the stick,” ruled Spasser, who nonetheless said the government could continue pursuing its suit.

The auction house has made the headlines over the past year for selling objects with historical significance, such as part of the estate left behind by former President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. Last year, the court issued an order against the sale of other historical items by Pentagon, such as tape recordings of the declaration of the founding of Israel and the visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, which had been stored in the archives of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, as well as an ivory key Ben-Zvi received on a visit to Africa and a notebook classified as “secret” with a summary of the Sinai Campaign in 1956.

Last week, the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court allowed the sale of the IBA tape recordings to go forward. “The court was convinced they didn’t have a case, we found them in a Broadcasting Authority garbage,” Eyal Ilya, the owner of Pentagon Auctions, told Haaretz.

Pentagon Auctions said it was pleased with the court’s decision on the controller and would now put it up for auction. “The legal proceedings have only raised its price,” it added.

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