A 2010 article by Shahid R. Siddiqi in Dawn (a major Pakistani English newspaper) states:

After successfully destroying the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Israelis planned a similar attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities at Kahuta in collusion with India in the 1980s. Using satellite pictures and intelligence information, Israel reportedly built a full-scale mock-up of Kahuta facility in the Negev Desert where pilots of F-16 and F-15 squadrons practiced mock attacks.

According to ‘The Asian Age’, journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark stated in their book ‘Deception: Pakistan, the US, and the Global Weapons Conspiracy’, that Israeli Air Force was to launch an air attack on Kahuta in the mid-1980s from Jamnagar airfield in Gujarat (India). The book claims that “in March 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed off (on) the Israeli-led operation bringing India, Pakistan, and Israel to within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear conflagration”.

Another report claims that Israel also planned an air strike directly out of Israel. After midway and midair refueling, Israeli warplanes planned to shoot down a commercial airline’s flight over the Indian Ocean that flew into Islamabad early morning, fly in a tight formation to appear as one large aircraft on radar screens preventing detection, use the drowned airliner’s call sign to enter Islamabad’s air space, knock out Kahuta and fly out to Jammu to refuel and exit.

According to reliable reports in the mid-1980s, this mission was actually launched one night. But the Israelis were in for a big surprise. They discovered that the Pakistan Air Force had already sounded an alert and had taken to the skies in anticipation of this attack. The mission had to be hurriedly aborted.

Pakistan reminded the Israelis that Pakistan was no Iraq and that PAF was no Iraqi Air Force. Pakistan is reported to have conveyed that an attack on Kahuta would force Pakistan to lay waste to Dimona, Israel’s nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert. India was also warned that Islamabad would attack Trombay if Kahuta's facilities were hit.

The above-quoted book claims that “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi eventually aborted the operation despite protests from military planners in New Delhi and Jerusalem.”
[All emphasis added]

Did India ever plan to get Pakistan's nuclear facility destroyed by Israel?


1 Answer 1


This is fraught with political spin, and in historical terms 'quite recent'. As this was a secret plan that touches on 'war', mostly lies are what go around in principle.

However, the claim in question is decidedly against what is commonly known on the topic, and the 'rationale' offered is not really plausible. It is unlikely that India wanted to get Israel to do the work on Pakistan for them. On the contrary it seems that India prevented such a thing from happening.

Or it is a simple misreading of the claim.

India got to knew of the Israeli plans to destroy something in Pakistan, was asked to participate, as landing and refueling there would have been necessary, then India refused to do so.

India was initially in cahoots of the planning against Kahuta, proposed by Israel, but was unwilling to carry it out?

India Thwarts Israeli Destruction of Pakistan's "Islamic Bomb"

There is some evidence that Iraq was not the only nuclear peril to Israel that Begin saw in the early 1980s. Nor was the Osirak reactor in Iraq his only intended target. He also feared the Pakistani nuclear effort because Israeli intelligence had found evidence that Libya and other Moslem states were helping Pakistan, supplying both money and uranium to their effort.

Pakistan's leader, Bhutto, was therefore under some obligation to share the nuclear fruits of Pakistan's bomb effort with other Moslem states such as Libya. According to an Indian official, Subramanlam Swamy, a former Janata Party member, Israel in 1982 asked him to sound out other Indian leaders to see if India would grant Israeli warplanes landing and refueling rights were they to undertake an Osirak-type raid against the Kahuta nuclear reactor in Pakistan. India refused, probably for a combination of reasons.
As one expert on South Asia speculated:

"First, the Kahuta facility is well-protected and is thus a hard target to destroy. Second and more important, India expects that any first strike by India against Kahuta would be swiftly followed by a Pakistani attack against India's nuclear facilities. Such an exchange would leave India worse off, since any potential deterrent capability against China would thereby be eliminated. Finally, India would be wary of launching such an attack against Pakistan as it would cause not only great death and destruction to Pakistan, but could blow radioactive fallout back over India. Such an attack against Pakistan would also alienate the Muslim Middle Eastem states whose amity India has assiduously cultivated.

In 1991, India and Pakistan signed a treaty pledging that neither would preemptively attack the nuclear facilities of the other.

— Barry R Schneider: "Radical Responses to Radical Regimes: Evaluating Preemptive Counter-Proliferation", McNair Paper 41, Institute of National Strategic Studies, National Defense University: Washington, DC, May 1995. (PDF)

And later it went down as:

Rajiv Gandhi’s frequent references to Pakistan’s nuclear program and some of his controversial statements added fuel to the preemptive-strike theory. For instance, addressing the officers of the National Defence College in October 1985, he warned: “We know and are fairly sure that the program has been financed not solely by Pakistan but also by other countries. Will this mean that the weapon will be available to these countries? How will these countries use the weapons?” A couple of years later, he again referred to external financial assistance for Pakistan’s nuclear program. In early 1987, the Washington Times quoted him as saying that an Arab-funded Pakistani bomb would be Islamic and could be made available to Arab countries. Such accusations were not new. Since the late 1970s, various Indian and Western studies focused on the Islamic aspect of Pakistan’s nuclear program.19 Fears were expressed over the possibility of Islamabad reciprocating Arab financial support by sharing its nuclear technology with the donors. Gandhi became the first and so far the only Indian leader to express such an apprehension in public. His concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan coincided with the commonly held view over the non-conventional ambitions of “irresponsible states,” but his public remarks displeased the Arabs.

The much-hyped Osiraq-type attack against Pakistan never materialized. The Indian reluctance to join with Israel and pursue a military option against the Pakistani nuclear program was logical and inevitable. While it would gain certain tactical benefits, a preemptive strike against Islamabad’s premier nuclear facility would have gone against India’s larger interests. With vital national installations such as oil refineries, nuclear facilities, and other economic targets lying within the striking range of retaliatory air strikes by Pakistan, the long-term strategic benefits of an Osiraq-type operation were limited and indeed remain counter-productive. Any open collaboration with Israel on an aggressive defense policy was politically costly for India, especially when it lacked the type of superpower guarantees that Israel managed to secure following the Osiraq bombing. Interestingly, much of the speculation occurred against the backdrop of the December 1985 understanding between Rajiv Gandhi and President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, whereby both countries agreed not to target each other’s nuclear installations. Delays in implementing this oral understanding partly contributed to the continued speculation.
— P. R. Kumaraswamy: "India’s Israel Policy", Columbia University Press New York, 20190, p230.

Now, what the book that originated the claim really says is that India did indeed plan a preemptive strike on Pakistan. Alone, as a contingency. After Pakistan signalled India that it already got wind of it, and issued other warnings over retaliation, India is said to have backed down. Then Israel stepped in and offered to do an Osirak-type operation, 'for India' – or 'in common interest' – but in exchange for cooperation on airfields.

The claim originating quote in context:

The timing of Khan’s outpourings could not have been worse. Reagan was due in Beijing. The aid package to Pakistan was up for renewal on Capitol Hill. In New Delhi, too, there was anger at Khan and at the US. The talk was that Washington had betrayed India’s secret plans to strike at Pakistan’s nuclear project. K. Subrahmanyam, chairman of India’s joint intelligence committee, picked over the Khan interviews. “We knew we were being challenged by Islamabad,” Subrahmanyam recalled. “Our intelligence people also had evidence of the Pakistan air force increasing their levels of readiness, further proof, if any more were needed, that our covert intentions to hit Kahuta were not secret any more.”

But what made India’s joint intelligence committee livid was that it had been sitting on the plan to strike KRL for a year. A committee of soldiers and intelligence people had first come together to discuss what became known as “the Osirak contingency” in 1981, after Lieutenant General Krishnaswami Sundarji had published his Pakistan war-gaming manual. Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi had consented and placed Air Marshal Dilbagh Singh, chief of air staff, in charge of the operation. He had ordered Indian Air Force Jaguar squadrons to practice low-level flying, simulating runs with 2,000-lb bombs.

In February 1983, with the strike plan at an advanced stage, Indian military officials had travelled secretly to Israel, which had a common interest in eliminating Khan, to buy electronic warfare equipment to neutralize Kahuta’s air defenses. On 25 February 1983, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi had accused Pakistan of “covertly attempting to make nuclear weapons,” and three days later, Raja Ramanna, director of India’s Bhabha Atomic Research Center, had revealed that India, too, was developing a uranium enrichment facility. Suspecting something was brewing, the ISI sent a message to their Indian intelligence counterparts in RAW that autumn, and as a result Munir Ahmed Khan of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission met Dr. Ramanna at the Imperial Hotel in Vienna. He warned Ramanna that if India were to strike at Kahuta, Pakistan would hit India’s nuclear facilities at Trombay. It lay downwind from the teeming Indian city of Mumbai and an attack would result in the release of “massive amounts of radiation to a large populated area, causing a disaster.”

New Delhi paused. Israel stepped in, suggesting that it carry out the raid, using India’s airbase at Jamnagar to launch Israeli air force jets and a second base in northern India to refuel. A senior Israeli analyst close to the operation recalled that the plan was to enter Pakistan beneath the radar, with jets tracking the line of the Himalayas through Kashmir. As Reagan’s staff finalized arrangements for the president’s visit to China in March 1984, prime minister Indira Gandhi signed off the Israeli-led operation, bringing India, Pakistan and Israel to within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear conflagration. It was at this point that the CIA tipped off President Zia, hoping the chain reaction would defuse the situation. And after Khan’s outbursts in the Pakistani newspapers, India and Israel had backed off. But these were high-stakes games, played between a known nuclear nation—India—and another—Pakistan—that Reagan continued to insist had no capability, the US deception bringing the region even further towards an apocalyptic conflagration.

Soon afterwards, Khan was at it again. This time sticking to a tight script, he contacted the Daily Jang and The Muslim. “Pakistan can set up several nuclear centers of the Kahuta pattern,” he bragged, knowing that every one of his words was being read over the border. “In the event of the destruction of the Kahuta plant, more than one such plant can be set up in Pakistan.” To make things absolutely clear, Pakistan’s ambassador in New Delhi approached the Indian foreign office, promising that they would make it rain fire if India went ahead.

Indira Gandhi had her resolve to do something about Kahuta rekindled in March 1984, when, just weeks after the Chinese president Li Xiannian visited Pakistan and stated that China endorsed a nuclear weapons-free South Asia, the Indian foreign ministry learned that China appeared to have detonated a nuclear-capable device on behalf of Pakistan at its test site at Lop Nor, an event witnessed by Pakistan’s foreign minister.30 In Washington, the true nature of the China–Pakistan nuclear pact also began to surface. Len Weiss, Senator Glenn’s staffer, recalled the congressional backlash as newspaper stories from the UK reached Washington claiming that US and Western intelligence had concluded that China had passed its bomb designs to Pakistan. “This news for us came from nowhere and its consequences were obvious. It was no longer just inexperienced Pakistan striving for a bomb and the US turning a blind eye. It was Pakistan backed by a sophisticated and proven nuclear power with the US burying the bad news from elected officials.”
— Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark: "Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the global nuclear weapons conspiracy", Walker Books, 2010.

Note that the Levy/Scott-Clark book is richly footnoted. But offers none for the central part of this claim and zero evidence for when Ms Gandhi signed off what. The book offers nothing more than a mere assertion by its authors on this.

  • India was initially in cahoots of the planning against Kahuta, proposed by Israel, but was unwilling to carry it out? --- policies can change at any time depending on the field situation. why is it so surprising?
    – user366312
    Aug 14, 2020 at 20:11
  • Good answer. It is a lesser known fact even in India that Israel was one of the few countries that militarily supported India during the 1970's Bangladesh liberation war.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 2, 2023 at 20:19

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