The brave Israeli pilots and their mighty air force

 

by Gideon

A phone call woke me up very early this morning. It was my uncle in Israel. He called to tell me that sirens are going off in my old hometown in Northern Israel. The Israeli air force was battling Syrian (Russian made) surface-to-air missiles. One Israeli F-16 was hit. The two pilots ejected. One of the pilots was taken to the hospital in a critical condition.

It was the first time in 35 years that an Israeli fighter jet was shot down in battle.  The previous time that an IAF’s plane was shot down in combat was 1983. An impressive record when considering how active the Israeli air force has been  during this period, which included the twenty years of Israeli occupation Southern Lebanon, the numerus mini wars in the Gaza strip, the difficult 2nd Lebanon war, the long range attacks on Iranian weapon convoys in Sudan, and the attacks on weapon depots in Syria in recent years.

According to international sources, the Israeli air force, the long arm of the State of Israel, has been attacking targets in Syria routinely in attempt to prevent the smuggling of lethal ground-to-ground missiles from Iran to the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. Missiles that would be launched against Israel in the first opportune time. Until today’s confrontation, there was no Israeli casualty in these attacks.

Today’s confrontation was different. Some say that the Iranians lured the IAF into a trap:

The battle started when Israel shut down an Iranian drone that crossed into Israel on a spying mission. In retaliation,  Israel attacked airfields deep in Syria including the base that launched the drone. According to reports six militants, Syrian and people with other nationalities were killed in the attacks. Unlike previous attacks, when the surprise was on the side of the Israeli air force, this time the IAF pilots found themselves attacking well defended targets, where were equipped with dense, sophisticated, anti-air missile systems. The Israeli pilots completed their missions and returned to their bases. In one of the IAF attacks, in one of the F-16’s fighter jets, the missile defense system failed to stop a Syrian missile and the plane was hit.

The Israeli air force is equipped with the most advanced US made aircrafts. However, what makes the IAF an amazing air force is its pilots. Their courage, their skills, and their dedication to their mission. Their selfless actions are tipping the balance in favor of Israel in many battles:

When the Syrian and Egyptian forces attacked the unprepared Israeli army on October 6, 1973, the small Israeli ground forces on the frontline couldn’t stop the massive number of enemy tanks and infantry units. On October 6th and October 7th, the situation was so bad that the defense minister, Moshe Dayan, believed that young Israeli nation is on the verge of annihilation. The IDF’s chief of staff David Elazar had only one option left. He ordered the chief of the Israeli air force, Benny Peled, to stop the advancing enemy forces at all cost.  

The Yom Kippur war caught the Israeli air force by surprise. Pilots were sent into battle without adequate information, adequate support, or adequate planning. The two primary aircrafts the Israeli Air Force (IAF) used in the Yom Kippur War were the American made Skyhawks and the Phantoms. One third out of the 383 aircrafts that the IAF had before the war were destroyed in the war. Fifty-three airmen were killed. Forty-four were taken prisoners of war, and fifty-three were rescued by Israeli ground forces.  

The primary mission of the Skyhawk squadrons was to attack enemy ground forces and logistic targets. The primary mission of the Phantom squadrons was air-to-air combat to clear the sky from enemy aircrafts, and to attack ground forces and logistic targets.

The IAF was well aware of the dense surface-to-air missile defense system that Egypt and Syria had. It was prepared to destroy them when the war began. However, desperate calls for help from the ground forces, which were in a dire need for air support, forced the IAF to change its plans and provide close ground support, while intentionally ignoring the surface-to-air missile threat. The price that the IAF paid was heavy; the IAF lost many plans and pilots in the first days of the war.     

In order to stop the Egyptian and Syrian forces from overrunning the Israeli Ground forces, Israeli combat pilots flew into thick surface-to-air missile defense systems, knowing very well that their chances of survival were minimal, yet they kept on flying the suicide missions until the ground forces reorganized and pushed back the Egyptian and Syrian armies. Many pilots were killed in combat in the Yom Kippur War. Many others became prisoners of war when their planes shot down behind enemy lines.  They were brutally tortured in Egyptian and Syrian prisons for many months before they were finally released in prisoners exchanges that took place after the war.

In the Yom Kippur War, Israeli combat pilots attacked tanks, surface-to-air, Russian made SAM missiles, and bunkers. They shot down hostile planes, and carried out scores of reconnaissance and photography missions over Egypt and Syria, as well as air-to-surface missions like attacking airbases, Egyptian pontoon bridges on the Suez Canal, and Egyptian front line forces. In Operation ‘Dugman 5’ aimed to destroy the Syrian surface-to-air missile defense system, the Israeli Air Force suffered heavy losses: six planes were shot down while attacking Syrian SAM’s. During the war, Israeli pilots flew thousands of daring missions against Egyptian and Syrian forces, many of them deep in enemy territory.

The most famous of these air strikes was the strike on the Syrian General Staff’s headquarters in Damascus. On October 9th 1973, two Phantom quartets attacked the General Staff Headquarters in the heart of Damascus. The attack was a success, but it came with a heavy price tag: Two planes were hit and one pilot was killed. Another plane was damaged by Surface-to-air fire. This aircraft managed to make its way back to base.

Brigadier General Ran Peker (the commander of the Tel Nof, the largest IAF base in the Yom Kippur War), in a recorded conference in the Bar Ilan University on the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War summarized his experience in the war: Out of the six wars that he fought in the air; the Sinai War, the Six Day War, the two wars of Attritions associated with the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and the First Lebanon War, only during the first week of the Yom Kippur War, as a senior base commander, he felt that there was a real threat to the existence of the State of Israel.

Early on Yom Kippur (the first day of the war), Ran Peker received a call from the IAF commander Benny Peled, who said that Israel received a message from a Mossad agent in Europe that confirmed that Israel would be attacked that evening at 6:00 pm. Peker hung up the phone and called the base. He ordered all the pilots to report to the base and scheduled an operation meeting at 7:00 am. While in the meeting, Peker received an order to attack the Syrian air bases at 12:00 pm that day. The pilots organized quickly, and were already on the runway ready to take off, when they received a cancellation order. The pilots turned around and returned the planes to the underground shelters.

Peker called Benny Peled for clarifications. Peled said that he was in Golad Meir’s (the Israeli prime minister) office. Golda called off the attack because she was concerned that it was a false alarm; a similar situation to what the IDF experienced five months earlier in May 1973. Golda called off the attack, because if it was another false alarm, she couldn’t explain the attack to Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State.

At 2:00 pm, while the commanders of the Tel Nof air force base planned for the imminent attack at 6:00 pm, Peker received a call from the IAF’s command center that informed him that Israel was under attack on all fronts. Peker and his pilots ran to their planes. When they got to their planes, they found themselves in a terrible situation. The ground crews were in the middle of a changeover; replacing the ammunition that was loaded earlier that morning for the attack on the missile batteries in Syria with ammunition that was a better fit for the ground support mission. A changeover is a four-hour process. When the pilots got to their planes, the ground crews were in the middle of the changeover. Bombs were laying on the ground everywhere. Peker gave an order to push everything aside. He instructed the pilots to take off and dump all the ammunition and the fuel which was not necessary for the new mission into the sea. This is how the Israeli air force entered the war.

Ran Peker was familiar with the lethality of the Russian made SAM 2 surface-to-air missiles. He faced them during the Attrition War when he was a Phantom squadron leader. The IAF had a plan on how to take them out. It required one day to take out the Egyptian missiles, and one day to take out the Syrian missiles. The air force knew that it will suffer heavy losses, but it was necessary. Accurate aerial photographs were critical for the success of the attack. The pilots had to know where the missiles were in order to destroy them.

On the second night of the war Peker received an order to attack the missiles in Egypt. The code name for the attack was Tagar. Peker piloted one of the first two planes to attack the Egyptian missile batteries. On the way to the targets he saw a terrible situation that the Israeli ground forces were in; fighting the Egyptian forces on the Israeli side of the Suez Canal. The success of the mission required four consecutive attacks. However, when he returned from the first attack, he received an order to stop the Tagar operation and initiate a new attack called Dugman 5, which was attacking the Syrian missile batteries. Peker called Benny Peled and told him that he didn’t have accurate aerial photos of the Syrian missiles locations. Benny Peled said that he just spoke with Moshe Dayan (the Israeli defense minister), who returned from the Syrian front. Dayan said that Israel was on the verge of losing the war. Peker and his pilots attacked the Syrian missiles based on locations they had before the war, but were no longer relevant. The IAF lost six planes. Twelve pilots and navigators were killed. The IAF was able to destroy only one missiles battery.

On October 8th, in a meeting of the base commanders with Beny Peled. The IAF chief said that this was a great day; that our forces crossed the Suez Canal to the other side. Later, Peker received a call from Peled to meet him at the defense minister’s office. Peled said that everything that he told Peker earlier was incorrect. The IDF did not cross the Suez Canal. Instead, the IDF lost 120 tanks that day. 15 Egyptian floating bridges were laid across the Canal. Peled said that he promised Golda Meir that the IAF will destroy all of them the next morning.

For Ran Peker, the following day, the 9th of October was the worst day of the war. The IAF attacked the bridges and other target. They suffered heavy losses. Zorik Lev, the commander of the Ramat David air force base was killed. On the same day, Shelach, a Tel Nof Skyhawk squadron leader, was also killed. The pilots had no choice but to continue do their job.

Benny Peled called Peker and said that after Zorik Lev, the commander of the Ramat David air force base was killed, Golda Meir ordered that IAF base commanders will not fly anymore. Peker and Peled ignored the order. Peker flew 22 additional sorties after that. He continued to attack targets in Syria and Egypt. He believed that commanders had to lead by example and that there was no difference between blood.

On October 9th, at midnight, Benny Peled called Peker and said that the situation was bad. Syria and Egypt pressured King Hussain to join the war and that Hussain is about to attack from the east. The situation was bad because all the forces assigned to the eastern front were sent to fight the Egyptians in the south and the Syrians in the North. Benny said that the air force had to do something of strategic nature to keep Jordan out of the war. He instructed Peker to attack the Syrian military headquarters in the heart of Damascus.

The route that Peker received from the IAF planning department was a direct line from Tiberius to Damascus, directly over all the missile batteries that protected Damascus. Peker and his team changed the route. The pilots flew over the Mediterranean Sea, through northern Lebanon. They approached Damascus from the rear. In this attack the IAF lost one plane, another one was caught on fire, but made it back to Ramat David. One pilot was killed and a navigator was taken as a prisoner of war. The IAF attacked the Syrian military headquarter while, unknown to the IAF, Israeli soldiers were held as prisoners of war in the basement of the same building. The Israeli POWs survived the attack. King Husain did not join the war.

To be successful the pilots had to feed the weapon systems with data. They needed aerial photos. The technique the IAF used for photographing the Syrian front was to fly in a pair of planes over the targeted area at the high altitude of 60,000 feet and in high speed of two Mach (twice the speed of sound). To achieve the high altitude and high speed, the pilots first flew south, then they made a wide turn over Jordan while climbing up to 60,000 feet. The pilots accelerated to two Mach and took pictures over Syria while flying back from north to south. In retaliation, the Syrian fired surface-to-air missiles. The approaching missiles forced the pilots to zigzag and abort their mission.

As dangerous as it was, the situation got to a point that the IAF had to get aerial photos. Peker had an idea on how to do that, but it was very complicated and dangerous, so he decided to lead it himself. They flew in a two planes formation. Peker told Arnon, the pilot of the other plane, that he couldn’t zigzag no matter what. Peker said that he’ll protect him. Then he told his navigator that his job was to protect Peker.

Peker described that a missile launch is seen from the air as if a helicopter just landed in the sand. A pilot, who is flying at 60,000 feet, needs to let the missile climb to 37,000 feet before he breaks. Eleven missiles were fired at Peker’s and Arnon’s planes on their photography mission that day. They lost 30,000 feet and 0.9 Mach on their escape maneuvers. They got the needed pictures. Peker said that they dripped sweat when they finally returned to the base. The next day it was needed to be done again. Peker didn’t have the heart to take the same crew twice on such a dangerous mission. He assembled a new team, but since he couldn’t explain to the new team what was required from them, he himself flew again. He was the only pilot who did it twice. On the second day nine missiles were fired at them. They completed their mission successfully.

The 102 IAF Skyhawk Squadron was one of the Israeli Air force units that fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In the first day of the war, the 102 Squadron supported the ground forces in the Suez Canal region. In the following days, the squadron attacked tanks and missile launchers on the Syrian and Egyptian fronts. During the war, the 102 Squadron flew close to 1,000 sorties and suffered heavy casualties. Seven pilots of the 102 Squadron were killed and five pilots became prisoners of war. The following is a testimony of one of the pilots who flew the 102 Squadron’s planes during the Yom Kippur War, as it was recorded during the 102 IAF Skyhawk Squadron’s gathering at the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.

IAF pilot Amos Yadlin (later, an Israeli Air Force general, Israel Defense Forces military attaché to Washington, D.C., and head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate) recalled that on the first day of the war, as he returned from an attack mission, he went over what just had happened. It was his first attack mission. Instead of dropping seven bombs, he dropped one. The target that that he was given wasn’t there. Everything that he was trained for happened differently. He wondered if this is how a war looks like.

After his first mission, Amos expected a hard debriefing session. When he returned to base no one talked to him. The squadron was in shock that the pilots Katziri, Sadan, and Karp did not return from the mission. The squadron commanders sent them to bed, which Amos thought later, was the right thing to do, since at 4:00 am the next morning they had to be up for the next day of battle. That evening an IDF Phantom from Squadron 119 crashes at the base. There were explosions all night. The navigator that was killed in the crash was Amos’ friend. They were together in flight school.

Amos lost his leader on the second day or on the third day of the war in the famous attack when the squadron flew in groups of threes. The youngest pilot was in the lead. His job was to attack first and then to ascends. The two older pilots attacked immediately after the lead. Amos was the in the lead. He finished his attack and turned back.  He saw the other two planes in his formation pulling up behind him. The pilot Kadmon radioed that he was hit and then his plane crashed into the ground. Amos didn’t see him ejects and was sure that Kadmon was killed. On the way to the base, Amos reported that Kadmon was killed. To his surprise, the flight controller corrected him that Kadmon was rescued and that he is on his way back in a rescue helicopter.

In the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, other pilots of the 102 Squadron also told their personal stories:

IAF pilot Mati Karp said that on Friday afternoon, on the eve of Yom Kippur, he went to the synagogue where he saw Eliezer Ben Yaari, who was with him in flight school. Yaari was a Mirage (French made fighter plane) pilot. Yaari told Karp that there was a high alert and it was questionable if they would be able to go home for Yom Kippur. Eventually they were given permission. Karp just returned from Switzerland. He wasn’t aware of the situation.

On the first day of the war, Karp said, that when it was his turn to pull up, he looked for a target. It wasn’t difficult because the area was full of vehicles. He released the bombs and began zigzagging at a low altitude on his way out of the target area. He didn’t see his number two. Karp looked back searching for him. His number two was a younger pilot. On the way out of the target area, Karp was hit very hard. The steering panels locked. The plane began rolling down at a high speed. He realized that he must bail out. Karp didn’t have time to pull on the overhead ejection handles, so he pulled the lower handle. He was ejected outside. As he rolled, he tried to orient himself. He realized that he was about to crash. Karp hit the ground as soon as the chute opened. If he was a split second slower, he wouldn’t have made it.

On the first day of the war, IAF pilot Shomart recalled that in one attack he was in the lead. IAF pilot Sadan was number two. IAF pilot Chagay was number three. IAF pilot Kadmon was number four. After receiving their target and looking it up on the map, to their disbelief, they realized that the target wasn’t in Syria or Egypt, it was on the Israeli side of the Suez Canal. It was hard to accept it. After they verified that it was correct, they proceeded to the target.

IAF Pilot Kadmon recalled that they flew at low altitude. When they entered the target zone, he attacked a target. He didn’t know if he hit it or not. Then he saw a large explosion on the Israeli side of the Suez Canal near Kantara. He later found out that it was Sadan’s plane; his number two. When the pilots saw that they were only three, that number two was missing, they called him again and again. Sadan didn’t answer. The pilots notified flight control that number two was missing and that they were returning home. After they landed, Shomart went immediately to the squadron leader Shachar. He told him that Sadan was missing. Shachar said that he heard that, and that they were searching for him. The pilots realized quickly that he was gone.

IAF pilot Avi Yegel recalled that a strength thing happened when he flew toward the Suez Canal. He saw the IAF pilot Marcus, about a 1,000 meter in front of him. His plane was surrounded by missiles. He flew at a low altitude. The missiles were above him, flying toward him like black needles. Marcus was in the middle of it. At one point, Marcus pulled up and then Yegel saw an orange mushroom and another mushroom and all the arrows that were behind Marcus raced toward him. Then Yegel realized that he was just behind Marcus and that he was most likely in the same situation. 

Pilot Gil Hoter Ishai recalled that on the first day of the war, when he completed the attack on the target, as soon as the formation began the trip back, the sky was red from anti-air bullets. He knew that as soon as he will pull up the nose of the plane, he would be getting into a torrential rain of anti-air rounds. He didn’t know how he will survive that.

IAF pilot Eli Hadomi said that the flight to the target in the Suez Canal was very difficult. The pilots could see form a distance the surface-to-air missiles being launched at them. His formation attacked an Egyptian bridge. They circled the target twice before attacking it because they arrived at the wrong angle for the attack. On the way out of the target area, IAF pilot Hadomi saw two missiles chasing them and then a huge explosion by IAF pilot Libby Dollar’s plane (which Hadomi still sees in his dreams). A huge mushroom cloud enveloped Libby Dollar’s plane and then Libby’s plane came out of the cloud and continued to fly. Hadomi flew next to him and saw that he controlled the plane. Libby made an emergency landing.

IAF pilot David (Marcus) Morag recalled that on the first day of the war they left on an attack mission at dusk. They left the base with four planes and returned with three. IAF Pilot Katizr, who was number three in the formation, was missing. At that time, Morag said, they really didn’t understand what was happening. They didn’t realize that they were at war. They never found out what exactly happened to Katizr because number four, IAF pilot Ben Eliezer, who was Katizer’s number two, was killed few days later.

IAF pilot Itzhak (phil) Barzilay recalled that for the first time in his life he felt that the IAF was opposed by great forces. That the IAF was ignored by the enemy.

IAF Pilot Moshe Koren recalled that he was in his Skyhawk when he heard on the squadron’s channel the message that Volt One was hit and that no parachute was seen. Koren knew who Volt one was, because in the evening before, IAF pilot Libby Dollar, who was in the same room with him, returned to the squadron after making an emergency landing in Refidim (an IAF base in Sinai). Koren said that they tried to take Libby out for a drink, to help him overcome the trauma that he just had. Libby preferred to stay in the room to write down, what Koren later found out, were Libby’s recollections from his first hit.

With the message that Volt One was hit and that no parachute was seen still fresh on their mind, the pilots flew on another attack mission in Syria. They entered the battlefield at a low altitude, shielded by a cliff over lake Kineret. When they entered the target zone, from the corner of his eye, Koren saw a flash followed by IAF pilot’s, Zvi, plane crashing on the ground. Koren released his bomb and turned around toward the Kineret. In a laconic voice he informed the flight controller that number one was hit and that no parachute was seen.

Ground Support IAF technician, Moshe Brown, recalled that they didn’t understand what was going on. No one told them why the aircrafts were falling, until one of the pilots told them about new enemy missiles that hit the tails of the planes. It was very painful, he recalled, we were one family. The ground crew knew most of the pilots that were hit. They served together during the Attrition War. Some of the pilots were on reserve duty. Others were professional pilots in the IAF.

IAF pilot Guy Amiram recalled that he flew with Shay Avital to the Suez Canal at a very low altitude. They were aware of the heavy surface-to-air missiles coverage. When they reached the canal. IAF pilot, Shay, began turning left to the south. He began to ascend slowly.  As his number two, Amiram was supposed to be above him, but he knew that if he was above Shay, they would have been too high. He called Shay to descend. Sahi was hit as he turned. He crashed into the ground and was killed. The air force couldn’t find the crash site of Shay Avital. When Amiram returned from Syria, where he was a prisoner of war, he marked on the map where Shay crashed. The air force found his body.   

IAF pilot Yehoshua (Shayke) Shomrat remembered that he was sitting in the briefing room when they were told that during the night the missiles launchers were destroyed and that the sky was clear. The pilots felt that going forward they would be able to do the work they knew how. That they would finally be able to be selective when choosing their targets. They felt that they could finally fully load the planes with ammunition, fly high in the sky, overlook the target area, and pick and choose the targets they wished to attack. IAF pilot Shomart was in the first pair to take off after the briefing. His Skyhawk was so heavy that it barely got off the ground. He didn’t know that the briefing he just received was completely wrong.

IAF pilot Guy Amiram was also flying on the same mission with a fully loaded Skyhawk. He recalled flying behind IAF pilot Chagay. He searched for targets and missiles when he suddenly saw a ball of fire on his left. He knew that it was a missile heading toward him. Amiram tried to escape, but in an altitude of 14,000 feet with a heavy plane full with ammunition, the plane responded very slowly and he was hit.

IAF pilot Gideon Shoham was on the same mission. He was in the second group of four planes. As they climbed up, he heard on the radio that one pilot in the group ahead of him ejected, another pilot was crashed to the ground, then a third pilot also ejected. Out of eight planes, three were already missing.

Shoham didn’t like it. As they got closer to the Golan Heights, he told flight control that the information that they received, that said that there weren’t any more enemy missiles was incorrect. He asked for an alternate target. After a short break flight control confirmed that there were missiles in the area and gave him an alternate target, which was located only 800 meter away from the original target, but still within the reach of the surface-to-air missiles.

Shoham knew that with heavily loaded planes that could barely maneuver, no one should enter an area protected by surface-to-air missiles. He realized that they were about to suffer very heavy losses. Shoham radioed the entire 102 squadron to turn around and return home. They returned to base with fifteen planes. Three planes were lost on the initial attack. Squadron 109 and squadron 115 who were also attacking Syrian targets, also lost pilots and planes that morning.

IAF pilot Ami Dekel recalled that he was relieved when Shoham radioed the squadron to turn around. He said that later, when both of them were pilots in Elal, Dekel told Shoham that he saved his life. Dekel said that he himself couldn’t have done it, that even more senior leaders couldn’t have done that. It had to be someone with Shoham’s status who could have faced the squadron leader and explain why he called off the attack.

IAF Pilot Zeev Shadmi recalled that in a later attack, after he released the bombs and turned east toward home, he noticed that Shoham’s plane disappeared. It took Shadmi about a minute before he realized that Shoham’s plane was hit. The flight controller recognized that Shoham ejected. Shoham was injured when he ejected. He was picked up by Israeli forces.

In 2013, on the forty-year anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, the pilots of the IAF Squadron 115 shared their experiences during the Yom Kippur War in video that was uploaded to You Tube.  In this video, Giroa Romm, the squadron commander, who returned few years before from a POW prison in Egypt after his plane was hit in the Attrition war, said that one day during the war, after taking off, when he was on his way to the battlefield in Egypt, he changed the course a bit and flew over his parents’ house. He rolled his plane from side to side, waving goodbye. He was certain that everything that he saw on his way to the battlefield that day, he saw for the last time. He did not except to return alive.

IAF Squadron 115 pilot Itzhak Golan (Glantz) said that in the Yom Kippur War, after few days of fighting, he was called to the IAF headquarters. When he arrived, he found the situation chaotic. Confusion and inability to plan properly was his impression of the situation at the headquarters. Golan recalled that he was afraid every time he flew into battle. In the 1967 Six Days War his plane was shut down over Iraq and he became a prisoner of war. When he returned to Israel, he volunteered to fly combat missions again. The fear of the experience in the prison in Iraq never left him. What helped him getting through was the knowledge that his squadron leader (Giora Romm) had a similar experience under much more difficult conditions. Golan said that Romm was an inspiration for him during the war.

IAF pilot Igal Gur recalled that the war dropped on them like a thunder on a clear day. In the first sorties, the pilots entered an inferno of surface-to-air missiles. They were in a difficult situation: one moment they were drinking coffee at the squadron’s club. In the following moment, they were in the inferno. From paradise to hell, then back to paradise, and then back to hell. Again, and again. To survive, Gur built a mental wall around him. He became a machine that executed everything that was asked of him. He did that to isolate himself from news about friends who were killed, or became prisoners of war.

IAF pilot Zvika Rosen recalled that during one of the evening attacks when he was over the target, he saw to his right side, at 2:00 O’clock, two orange lights. They were visible against the dark background. He saw the missiles rising up toward him. After a split second the cockpit was lit in a blinding yellow light. Rosen couldn’t see anything outside. There was a complete silence. He understood that he was hit and bailed out. He was captured and became prisoner of war. Rosn said that the entire time that he was a prisoner of war, he always tried to get his name published, so people would know that he was alive and a POW.

IAF pilot Yakov Rayzman said that his roommate, Miki Schneider, who was also a childhood friend from the neighborhood, was hit. His plane was shot down over the Golan Height. At that time, Rayzman did not know that his friend was a POW in Syria, and that one day he will return. To his surprise, Rayzman’s internal response was opposite of what he imagined. The fear and the anxiety disappeared completely. From that day forward, he flew without any fear or worry.  When Rayzman looked at it from the perspective of forty years, he realized that it was just his way to suppress the fear.

IAF Pilot Yacin Kochva said that the IDF was used to always win, but was not winning this time. IAF pilots dropped bombs on the enemy again and again, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t bring the results that the pilots were accustomed to. It was very frustrating. On one mission, Kochva was alone on a single plane attack in the Suez Canal. It was a dark night. As he pulled up he saw a missile exploding next to him. The aircraft rolled over from the shock waves of the explosion. When Kochva looked inside, he saw that the fuel gage dropped to a minimal fuel amount. When he got back to his bed at the base, he experienced death for the first time. He understood that from this war he will not return home alive. Every time he crossed the border, he felt a strong fear. he overcame it because of his training. The relief came every time he finished the mission and returned to Israel. The repetitions of fear and relief with every mission were difficult on him.

IAF pilot Roni Tefer reacalled that when he was flying east (toward Syria) in a low altitude, the sky was full with surface-to-air fire. He asked himself why he was flying this direction. He faced a dilemma. It was not logical to fly forward, but he was still doing it. It took him many years to understand the reason the pilots flew into the dense missile defense system was because they preferred dying than be shamed as cowards.

Tefer remembered a night mission, before dawn. His formation was supposed to rendezvous with a Mirage formation that came from another IAF base to provide an aerial cover for the Skyhawks. The rendezvous was done at a low altitude, over the Mediterranean Sea, while maintaining a radio silence. Tefer recalled that it made him feel powerful. He told himself that an air force that can organize such a rendezvous, so accurately, under such conditions, is an air force that cannot be defeated.

One of the things that IAF pilot Ruso Manachem remembered from the war was the intense fear at 4:00 a.m. in the morning when the pilots were in the briefing room. The mission was to attack surface-to-air missile launchers in the Suez Canal.  A day after a similar attempt on the Golan Heights failed and the squadron lost an aircraft in every attack on a missile battery. The pilots knew the results before they even started. Yet, they sat in the briefing room getting ready for another say of battle. He looked around to see that the other pilots had the same look as he did. He was not the only one who felt this way.

IAF Pilot Chanoch Pe’er remembered that the sky was full with anti-air fire, missiles, rounds, and shells. It was all targeted at him. Pe’er was disconnected from everything around him. He was in a different world. Pe’er had a target to attack and he was heading there. He dove toward the target. Completing the mission came before anything else. Pe’er did everything in his power to complete the mission. If that meant to be exposed to the entire surface-to-air fire, so be it.

On June 9, 1982, during the 1st Lebanon war, the IAF launched Operation Mole Cricket 19 intended to suppress the Syrian air defense system. The operation was the first time in history that a Western equipped air force successfully destroyed a Soviet built surface-to-air missile network. It was also one of the biggest air battles since World War II, and the biggest since the Korean War. The battle lasted about two hours. The IAF used innovative tactics and technology to win the battle. The primary Syrian fighters involved in the battle were Russian made MiG-21s, MiG-23s and Su-20s. The IAF pilots flew the American fighters F-15, F-16, and Phantoms, and the Israeli made Kfir. By the end of the day, the IAF had destroyed seventeen of the nineteen surface-to-air missile batteries and shot down 90 Syrian aircrafts. The IAF suffered no losses. The decisive Israeli victory was nicknamed the “Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot”. In the following day, the IAF destroyed six other surface-to-air batteries, two that remained from the operation and four that the Syrians moved into the Beqaa valley that night.

This article is dedicated to the brave Israeli pilots who time and time again save the State of Israel. 

* To learn more about the amazing Israeli  pilots click on this link: The amazing story of the Israeli combat pilot Giora Romm

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Israel’s newest fighter jet, the F-35

IAF attack helicopters

June 2015 – IAF’s Pilot School Graduating Class 170

January 2017 – The-173rd-graduating-class-with-Lt.-Shahar-in-the-center. Lt. Shahar, became the fourth female fighter pilot in Israeli Air Force history.

Over the past 20+ years, ever since Alice Miller broke the gender barrier by petitioning the Supreme Court for the right to enlist in the Israel Air Force’s prestigious flight school course, quite few brave tallanted Israeli women received pilots’ wings.

December 2014 – Female graduates of the IAF’s 163rd flight school course

Related articles:

 The amazing story of the Israeli combat pilot Giora Romm

The Story of the Israeli Pilots in the Yom Kippur War – מלחמת יום כיפור: סיפורם של טייסי הקרב

Above and Beyond and the Israeli Air Force (IAF)