Israeli Air Force / Heyl Ha'Avir
By Marco Pennings
The roots of the Israeli Air Force go back to 1947 when the Air Service was created by the Palmach, the resistance movement for a free and independent Israel. Those first days nearly everything that could fly was put in to service. Amongst those first aircraft were Austers and Dragon Rapides. With the declaration of independence on May 15th 1948 a regional war started with the Arabic neighbour countries.
Because of a weapons embargo the Israeli's had to find their aircraft trough other means, mostly by smuggling Spitfires, Mosquitos and other aircraft. The first real order for aircraft was placed in Czechoslovakia and ironically enough they were from German origin: license build S-199's (Me-109) The first airfields the Israeli AF used were former RAF bases: Sde Dov, Ramat David and Lod (better known as Ben Gurion IAP) One of the most famous pilots of those days is Ezer Weizman, later Chief of Staff of the Israeli AF and at the end of the nineties President of the State of Israel.
Throughout the years the Israeli AF grew out and got more modern aircraft like Spitfires and P-51s followed the S-199. In 1953 the jet age started also when the air force purchased their first Gloster Meteors in the United Kingdom. Also some jet aircraft were bought in France which came just in time for the first major conflict after the War of Independence with Egypt. 75 Ouragans and 60 Mysteres were ordered and delivered in 1955.
1956 was the year of the Sinai campaign. Within a few days the Israeli AF took the whole Sinai desert and Israeli forces stood on the banks of the Suez canal. Only fifteen Israeli aircraft were lost during this short but fierce battle. After this war the modernisation of the air force sped up and the first Fouga Magisters were delivered by France and Germany. The Magisters were enhanced and named "Tzukit".
The sixties were the days of the delivery of the first Mach 2 fighters and the infamous Six Day War. The Mirage III played a very important role during the Six Day war. At one time only 12 Mirages where used to defend the skies of Israel, while the rest of the other aircraft were used to decimate the Egypt Air Force and after that the same thing happened to the Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi Air Forces on the same day! The easy victory on those air forces, which had their aircraft all lined up on the ramp, led to the building of Hardened Aircraft Shelters within the NATO.
After the end after six days the borders had been changed, they took control of the Golan heights, the Sinai and the Westbank (with East Jerusalem). Result of this war was however a weapons embargo called up by France and England. So Israel had to turn to the USA for new and modern weapons. The first Phantoms and Skyhawks were delivered to Israel at the end of the sixties, though some sources tell that some Phantoms were silently delivered in 1962 before the start of the Six Day War...
Israel realised also that building an aircraft of their own would make them less vulnerable on embargoes, so they created the now famous Kfir and Nesher. Both are upgraded and modernised versions of the Mirage III and the Mirage V. Later the Lavi project was cancelled due to pressure by the USA.
Peace was held until October 6th, 1973. On this most holy day which is named Yom Kippur, the Arabic neighbours started an all out war that lead to huge losses for the Israeli AF. The air force played however also the biggest role in deciding the war into victory. Skyhawks and Phantoms bombed the Golan heights only meters in front of their own troops, C-130 and helicopters were put into action in the most effective way one could think off.
The Israeli AF nowadays and in the future
After winning the Yom Kippur war the Israeli AF didn't sat still and stood up as a very effective and flexible Air Power. F-15s and F-16s were added to the inventory in the late seventies and early eighties. Many kills were made during operations over Lebanon like Operation Peace for Galilee. One of the most daring attacks was Operation Osiris during which F-15s and F-16s struck the nuclear facility in Osirak, Iraq. All aircraft hit their target and landed safely back in Israel.
Despite the fact that Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, the sky over Lebanon is still theirs. During the years of occupation more than 100 Syrian aircraft were shot down for the loss of only a handful of Israeli aircraft, most of them due to the SAM threat. Amongst the losses was the loss of an RF-4E Phantom, the pilot was rescued but Ron Arad, the navigator was captured. Up to today he has not been released and it is assumed he is being held in Iran. He is one of the Israeli heroes of today.
At the end of the nineties and start of the 20th century several new types and new versions of known types were introduced to replace some long serving aircraft like the A-4, C-47, F-4, Kfir and TB-20. New additions to the inventory were the Beech 200, Bonanza, F-15I, F-16I, Gulfstream 550 and AH-64D. There are not enough funds to replace important aircraft like the A-4 (now only operational in the training role), C-130 and CH-53 with new aircraft. Therefore it was decided to give these an extensive upgrade giving them several more decades of service in Israel.
It must be pointed out that peace is still not there and it might take many more years before peace is being reached.