Some of them are well described in the book The Sword of David – The Israeli Air Force at War, written by Donald McCarthy.
According to McCarthy, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1968 before becoming a respected and well informed historian, the information for Operation Orchard is alleged to have come from Ali Reza Asgari, an Iranian general disappeared in February 2007, who may have been the source of the intelligence required by the Syrian nuclear site attack.
After gathering the required details, the Israelis planned a secret mission that was launched on Sept. 6 2007, at night.
McCarthy points out the fact that Syria as well as other Arab countries were equipped with advanced Russian air defense systems, such as the Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound as reported by NATO designation), claimed to be immune to electronic jamming. At the time of Operation Orchard, Syria operated twenty nine of these advanced air defense systems, so it remains unclear how the IAF aircraft flew undetected into the night sky out over the Mediterranean Sea, across the Euphrates River and along their route to the nuclear facility.
As explained by McCarthy, according to the most widely accepted theory the strike force included one or more Gulfstream G550 aircraft, equipped with the IAI Elta EL/W-2085 radar system.
Indeed, the success of the operation was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems.
This system, combined with the F-15Is electronic warfare capabilities, shut down Syrian air defense systems, providing the other airplanes the cover they needed to hit and destroy the Dir A-Zur nuclear plant.
After the attack, the initial reports stated that the IAF aircraft had almost entirely destroyed the nuclear site, claims that were also confirmed by the comparison of pre and post-attack satellite imagery.
Even if the incident was shrouded in secrecy, Turkish media outlets reported that external fuel tanks were found on the ground not far away from the Syrian border: as reported by Shlomo Aloni & Zvi Avidror in their book Hammers Israel’s Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron, these external fuel tanks were identified by foreign press as belonging to F-15 aircraft.
The Israeli source who pointed us to the image said the dorsal antenna is retractable, but we are not sure it can be extended; it could be a fixed satellite antenna used for ISTAR, SIGINT, communications relay.
When the Egyptian Air Force started attacking Tel Aviv on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel announced independence, the Jewish state felt the need to respond to the Egyptian air raids. In spite of the large U.S. market of World War II surplus equipment, the only heavy bomber that was readily available and could procured was the Boeing B-17.
Schwimmer (the founder and first CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries) found the future Israeli bombers among the Flying Fortress aircraft already flying with the numerous start-up airlines formed after the end of WWII.
As reported by Bill Norton in his book Air War on the Edge, A History of the Israel Air Force and its aircraft since 1947, two B-17s (s/n 44-83851 and 44-83753) were acquired for 30,000 USD from Charles Winters which used them for his freight business between Florida and Puerto Rico, while two more planes were purchased from Donald H. Roberts of Tulsa. The four B-17s were legally registered, commercially modified and above all, they were airworthy airframes, meaning that they could fly on their own power all the way from the U.S. to Israel.
Planned route for the Flying Fortress was Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Juan to Santa Maria, Azores; and Azores to Zatec Czechoslovakia, for an epic 10,600 kilometer flight of at least 38 hours duration over the Atlantic Ocean and across the Iron Curtain.
The first three B-17s took off on Jun. 11, 1948 and their ferry flight was explained by David Goldberg, who was the co-pilot of one of the three bombers. Goldberg released his impressions for Wing Magazine Volume 11, February 1981. The same story was later reported also in Shlomo Aloni & Zvi Avidror book Hammers Israel’s Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron:
“I had flown B-24s with the 15th Air Force in Italy during the war. While making cargo runs out of Miami in the spring of 1948, I was contacted by phone and asked if I’d be interested in earning $ 1000 to ferry an airplane to Europe. I said sure. […] A few days before we were to depart I was asked if I’ d fly as co-pilot instead of pilot, since they now had found a colonel who was supposed to have had a great deal of B-17 time, and, also, his name would look better on the documents. The money was the same, so I agreed. Our flight from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico, was uneventful. Besides the colonel and myself we had picked up a navigator and about ten young men classified as ‘cargo handlers’.”
The rest of the ferry flight was quite a scary adventure which saw Goldberg flying the B-17 most of the time: “The colonel got roaring drunk at San Juan and stayed that way up to departure time. The next morning we have managed to pour him into the plane, and the navigator and I flew it out. From San Juan we were heading to the Azores Islands. That would take 21 hours, and we had 24 hours of fuel on board. When we were about 10 hours out the colonel was coming around to relieve me so I could get some rest. I had just fallen asleep in the back when I was awakened with a great deal of excitement and told that Cohen, the navigator, had fallen through a glassed-over section in the floor of the nose that had been put there for aerial photography. The guy was barely hanging on, and was slowly being sucked out by the slipstream. I ran back to the cockpit to get the aircraft slowed down. Col. B— had gone to pieces and was shaking like a leaf. I slowed the plane down and put it on auto-pilot and went down to help pull the navigator back in. We succeeded, but he was absolutely useless after that, and we now had to find the Azores without him.”
Incredibly Goldberg and his aircrew were able to find the Portuguese islands: “By a stroke of luck we were able to pick up the airway radio beacon from Santa Maria after 20 hours of flying – but the weather had turned bad and the ceiling was low. The island is covered with mountains, and Col. B— then announced that an instrument approach would be too risky, so he was going to ditch the plane off the coast. I said that was crazy, and that I would make the approach. He refused to get out of the left-hand seat. It was time for some drastic action. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and told him I’d crush his skull if he didn’t get out of the f—-ing seat. He left, we landed safely… And I completed the rest of the flight to Czechoslovakia alone in the cockpit!”
As already said, after reaching Santa Maria, Azores, the three B-17s were planned to fly to Zatec, Czechoslovakia, but since the American authorities were not far behind, the bombers had to move on quickly. So, with the prior consent of French officials the crews filed a flight plan for Ajaccio, Corse, but instead they landed at Zatec on June 17, where the Israeli airlift was going on in earnest.
However the American press reports had already uncovered the affair from June 16, when news circulated that several American surplus warplanes had departed from Ajaccio to Palestine: moreover, despite arrangements, the French would not confirm the arrival of the aircraft at Ajaccio and they were declared missing.
The public exposure of the three B-17s’ epic flight made the delivery of the last bomber really difficult: in fact the fourth Flying Fortress never reached Israel since, at the request of the United States, Portuguese officials impounded the aircraft indefinitely at the Azores.
33 years ago, one of the most famous and dangerous long range attack mission in Israeli Air Force history.
Israeli Air Force’s interest in the Lockheed Martin F-16 was born after the Yom Kippur War when the IAF realized that, alongside the F-15 Eagle, they needed a new, advanced, relatively cheap, multirole jet.
The negotiations with the U.S. to acquire the F-16 started in 1975 and after some years of delay, caused by the Middle East tensions, the Fighting Falcon sale was finalised in 1979 as result of the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
The first F-16s were delivered to the IAF in 1980 and the following year, before all the Netz (as the F-16A is called by IAF) were handed over, the new Vipers took part in one of the most famous mission in Israeli Air Force history, the Operation Opera.
The operation was aimed at destroying the Iraqi Osirak nuclear plant, also called Tamuz 1, at Al Tuwaitha, 12 miles southeast of Baghdad.
As explained by Bill Norton in his book Air War on the Edge, A History of the Israel Air Force and its aircraft since 1947, the IAF conducted this attack following Saddam Hussein’s bellicose claims which led to the Israeli fear that the French-built facility could have the capabilities to produce weapons-grade fissionable material.
The training was conducted in the Negev where a mock-up of the nuclear plant was built: against this facility at least two attacks were simulated in August and September 1980. After the training missions, four dates were set and after three of them were cancelled, on Sunday May 10, 1981 pilots were already aboard their aircraft when the operation was cancelled once again because of the risk some French employees could be inside the Osirak plant at the time of the attack.
But finally on Jun. 7, 1981 at 15:55LT Operation Opera was launched.
Eight F-16s, belonging to both 117 and 110 Squadrons both based at Ramat David, took off from Etzion, the best placed base for the attack, escorted by six F-15s while an E-2C Hawkeye provided airborne early warning and control and several CH-53s for SAR duties were deployed near the Iraqi border.
Two more Fighting Falcons were kept as a reserve.
The F-16s were armed with two 2,000 pounds Mk. 84, two AIM-9J Sidewinders, two 370 gal. external tanks under the wings and one 300 gall tank under the belly.
As told by Norton, the Israeli jets flew more than 600 miles in the skies of three supposedly enemy nations: to reach the target, the first country that the aircraft overflew was northern Saudi Arabia and its deserts.
At 17:35 with the sun at their back complicating any intercept attempt, the aircraft arrived over the target: before releasing their bombs the F-16s lit their afterburners at about 12.5 miles from the nuclear plant, climbed to 8,000 ft and then dived at 600 kts releasing their Mk. 84s at 3,500 ft.
The weapons were delivered on target by two waves of four Falcons each.
Even if two bombs missed the target the others were able to destroy and damage the reactor and several facilities. Some Mk. 84s had very long delayed fuzes to avoid any attempts to repair or rebuild the plant.
The attackers remained on the reactor site for less than two minutes and the only opposition they faced, were an inefficient AAA fire and some SAM launches which missed the F-16s.
On their way home, the Fighting Falcons climbed to 40,000 ft to save fuel and overflew the third hostile country, Jordan, which however didn’t show any opposition against them.
One F-15 and one F-16 diverted from the planned route to complicate any intercept attempts, while all the aircraft landed at Etzion after a 3 hours of mission, during which no aircraft was damaged.
A documentary (spit into three videos you can find below) explains how IAF planned and executed the Operation Opera, to date one of the best examples of how a long range attack mission can be carried out.
A 007-style of mission to capture a Mig-21 in the 1960s.
Built in more than 11,000 examples and acquired by countless countries around the globe, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 was introduced in several Arab arsenals in the early 1960s, becoming the most modern among the Soviet jets flown in the Middle East in that period.
After it entered the active service, Israelis feared that the Fishbed was superior to the Mirage III fighter jets hence they needed as much details about it as possible to assess its capabilities since any information about this new fighter could give to the Israeli Air Force aircrews an edge over the enemy pilots in combat.
Therefore, the IAF made it clear to Israeli national intelligence agencies that it needed detailed information on the MiG-21 and, preferably, an example to test.
The interesting story of how the IAF was able to procure a MiG-21 is reported in Bill Norton book “Air War on the Edge, A History of the Israel Air Force and its aircraft since 1947.”
According to Norton, Captain Munir Radfa, an Iraqi MiG-21 pilot, was convinced to fly his Fishbed to Israel, with the promise that his family would be brought out from Iraq and that he would be paid $ 300,000 to re-establish himself in Israel.
After the transfer of his family initiated, Captain Radfa waited to be assigned a long range training sortie over the western desert during which he would try to reach Israel.
On Aug. 16, 1966, while flying in aircraft 534, a MiG-21F-13 Fishbed-C with a full load of fuel, Radfa broke away from his formation and made his way to Israel.
The MiG-21 flew across Jordan and entered Israeli airspace just south of the Dead Sea thanks to a flight path provided by the Israelis that would have avoided his detection by Jordanian radar stations.
As described by Norton, two Jordanian Hunters pursued the MiG, but the Fishbed flew at high speed at an altitude of about 30,000 ft, making the intercept impossible. Moreover the flight path of the MiG-21 to enter Israel was chosen far from populated areas, allowing the shooting down of the Iraqi fighter in case of false defection.
After Radfa crossed Israeli border, the Mig-21 was flanked by two Mirages IIIs flown by two of the best IAF pilots, Major Ran Peker, 119 Squadron Commanding Officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Shamuel Shefer, who was Tel Nof Air Base Commander, who escorted the jet to Hatzor avoiding sensitive areas.
According to another story, Radfa flew to Turkey escorted by U.S. F-4s then, after refueling, he took off again heading out to the Mediterranean Sea where it was met by IAF fighters that escorted the defecting Mig-21 into Israeli airspace.
Even if Israel tried to keep the defection secret, the MiG-21 sporting Iraqi markings was clearly seen landing at Hatzor escorted by two IAF Mirages. Almost immediately the defection gained the world headline news and Iraqis and Russians demanded the return of the aircraft. Obviously, the Israelis rejected these requests and applied the 007 number to the aircraft, reflecting the James Bond manner in which it had come to them, as told by Norton.
Finally Israel had its MiG-21 and Danny Shapira, the legendary IAF test pilot, flew it in mock air engagements against the Mirage III.
What he discovered is that even if the Fishbed was a good high-altitude fighter and an easy aircraft to fly, it was also underpowered in many important areas of the flight envelope. However the two aircraft were found to be nearly evenly matched, and it was the pilot’s skill and determination that largely determined the outcome of an engagement between the two.
But aircraft “007” also served in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) service during the Six Days war, when it was painted with red stripes in order to prevent it from being mistaken for an enemy and attacked by other Israeli fighters.
Moreover the MiG-21 007 was sent to the U.S. in January 1968, to be evaluated alongside with captured MiG-17s, in a secret unit which had the task to fly Soviet combat aircraft against the most modern American fighters under Operation Have Doughnut.
In 1982 the Israelis requested the Mig-21 007 back, since they wanted to expose it in the IAF Museum in Hatzerim.
However, the U.S. sent them another MiG-21. Israel tried once again to have the real 007 but, once again, the U.S. sent a wrong Fishbed: at this point it was clear that the Americans had too many MiG-21s and Israel could only accept this last one that was soon put on display at the Museum.