Friday, June 17, 2011

Israel's Air Force

The Israeli Air Force was born in to the War of Independence in 1948. Preceded by “Sherut Avir”, the air wing of the Haganah (that was later to become Israeli Defence Force), it was a small group of people and only a few planes. Recruits and aircraft joined the young force bringing in valuable skills, aircraft, and equipment.

On May 29th 1948, the IAF deployed for the first time, and using four Czechoslovakian Messerschmitt planes, helped to bring to a halt an Egyptian advance near the Port city of Ashdod. During the War of Independence, the IAF intercepted enemy air craft, supported ground forces, and went on attack sorties to Cairo, Damascus, and Amman. With the war end, most of the foreign volunteers were released, and the IAF, which now relied on Israeli pilots only, began organizing its air bases, formulate its combat policies and establish new Squadrons which were equipped with new aircraft.

In early 1950’s the IAF was well organized from an administrative and operational perspectives. Control systems were developed, and the use of aerial photography became an important source of intelligence. In 1953 the force entered the “Jet Era”, when British “Meteor” aircraft joined the force. In 1956 the IAF performed multiple roles in Operation “Kadesh” (The Israeli operation in the Sinai Peninsula); dropping paratroopers over Sinai, destruction of Egyptian communication lines, rescue missions, support of ground forces, and aerial attacks.

In the 1960’s the IAF continued adopting new aircraft, and its combat policy, strategy, and ability was put to a test in a long row of air clashes against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. At the initial stages of the “Six Day War” the IAF executed a courageous operation “Focus”, almost entirely destroying the Egyptian air force, and severely damaging the air forces of Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Gaining aerial superiority, the air force then provided complete support to ground forces.

At the "War of Attrition" the air force fought on all fronts. The most intense battles took place in Egyptian frontier: Air battles, attacks on missile batteries in the Suez Canal, and attacks on targets deep in the heart of Egypt. Joint operations with ground forces also took place in Jordan valley, and the Egyptian front. During these years, the air force continued to acquire better and more sophisticated air craft, and in early 1970’s it first entered the world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

The “Yom Kippur” War, in 1973 was a big test for the Israeli Air force. From the early hours of the war, IAF aircraft support efforts to halt Egyptian and Syrian advance, engaged in air battles, attacked enemy ground forces, bombed enemy’s airports, and attacked strategic targets. The greatest threat to IAF was the Ground-Air missiles array. A large number of planes were intercepted and shot down. A great deal of effort was spent in the post-war years, to tackle this challenge, and minimize its threat.

In July 1976, Operation “Entebbe” led to the safe return of Israeli hostages from the plane kidnapped in Athens, and then brought to Uganda. IAF’s Hercules planes transported the forces and their equipment to Uganda, who then return to Israel with the hostages. In 1978 air force planes supported operation “Litani”. In June 1981 IAF jets destroyed the nuclear reactor in Iraq. A year later, the force attacked strategic targets during the first Lebanon war, and engaged in aerial battles, taking down around 100 Syrian planes. In operation “Mole Cricket 19” Israeli jets destroyed the Syrian anti-aircraft missile batteries in Lebanon.

In the 1980’s the air force assisted with the mass repatriation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In October 1985 the IAF attacked the most remote target – The P.L.O command center in Tunisia in operation “wooden Leg”.
In the first years of the 21st century, the IAF was heavily involved in various operations in Yehuda, Shomron, and Gaza, destroying strategic terrorist targets, and intelligence missions, especially since the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza strip in 2005.

At the Second Lebanon War in summer 2006, the IAF destroyed rocket launch pads, terrorist infrastructure, provided support to ground forces, evacuated injured soldiers, gathered intelligence, and transported forces deep into Lebanon’s territory. Operation “Cast Led” in December 2008 launched with a broad aerial attack on "Hamas" infrastructure in the Gaza strip. Throughout the operation the IAF provided ongoing support to ground forces, gathered intelligence, evacuated the wounded, and handled the terrorist rocket launch pads.

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