Israeli Air Force

From Academic Kids

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) (Hebrew: חיל האוויר Heyl ha'Avir) is the air force of the Israel Defense Forces.

Official shield of the IAF
Official shield of the IAF




Early years (1948-1957)

The IAF was formed when Israel achieved statehood in 1948 and found itself under immediate attack. The air force was at first assembled from a hodge-podge collection of civilian aircraft commandeered or donated and converted to military use. A variety of obsolete and surplus ex-World War II combat aircraft were quickly sourced by various means to supplement this fleet. The backbone of the IAF consisted of 25 Avia S-199 and 62 Spitfires LF Mk IXE purchased from Czechoslovakia.

During the 1950s, France became a major supplier of warplanes to Israel, but the trust between the two countries was violated just before the Six Day War, when France declared an arms embargo on Israel, mainly due to economic and diplomatic considerations. The Arab states were deemed by France to be a much more profitable trading partner than Israel, and a vital pillar of the French oil supply. This had a two pronged effect: Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) significantly increased its efforts and abilities in weapons production (initially based on the French models) and the United States replaced France as Israel's primary military aircraft broker, producing the majority of the IAF combat fighters from the late 1960s till today.

The Six-Day War

During the Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force achieved absolute air superiority by eliminating the entire opposing Arab air forces on the first day of fighting. On June 5, 1967, in a massive coordinated raid employing special Durandal and conventional bombs, rockets and strafing, the IAF destroyed the entire Egyptian air-force while most of the Egyptian planes were still on the ground. By the end of the day the Syrian and Jordanian air forces were wiped out as well. The IAF shoot-down record at the end of the war was a claimed record of 451 enemy aircraft downed versus 10 downed of its own. While this operation was taking place, only a handful of aircraft were left to guard Israeli skies.

Also during this war, On June 8, 1967, the Israeli Air Force (and the Navy) attacked the USS Liberty while she was in international waters, 13 miles off El Arish in the Sinai peninsula. The Israeli Government later apologized for this tragic mistake and paid modest reparations to the families of the victims.

The War of Attrition

In the War of Attrition, the IAF operated in air "dog fight" and bombing of strategic targets deep within enemy's territory. Notable operations were:

  • September 11, 1969: IAF planes shot down 11 Egyptian jet fighters in dogfights.
  • September 26, 1969: IAF Super Frelon and CH-53 Sikorski helicopters carry paratroopers in a raid to "hijack" and airlift back an advanced Soviet P-12 radar deployed in Egypt near Suez. A Ch-53 Helicopter carried the 4 ton radar back, tethered under it.
  • January 7, 1970: the IAF start performing deep strikes on Egyptian targets, in order to force them to cease artillery and commando attacks on Israeli forces arrayed along the east side of the Suez Canal.
  • July 30, 1970: the IAF shot down 5 Egyptian MiG 21 (Mikoyan-Gurevich) fighters, flown by Soviet pilots sent by Moscow to "show the Egyptians how to deal with the IAF".

Yom Kippur War

In the Yom Kippur War the IAF suffered heavy casualties from Soviet anti-aircraft surface-to-air missiles but managed to regroup and assist IDF's ground forces and later bomb infrastructure targets in Syria and Egypt. IAF helicopters proved to be highly useful in logistics and rescue efforts (MedEvac). During that war, the IAF lost 102 planes while the Egyptian Air Force lost 235 and the Syrian Air Force lost 135.

Growth (1973 - 1982)

From the 1970s onwards, following the Yom Kippur War, most of Israel's military aircraft have been obtained from the United States.

The Israeli Air Force has also operated a small number of domestically-produced types, most famously the IAI Kfir, an unauthorised copy of the French Dassault Mirage III adapted to utilise a more powerful US engine.

During the 1980s and 1990s the IAF was equipped with American aircraft ( F-15, F-16, AH-1 Cobra and C130 Hercules). In 1981 8 IAF F-16 fighters covered by 8 F-15 jets flew to Iraq and bombed the nuclear facilties of Osiraq. Among the pilots that took part in the attack was the late Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut. This operation was named by Israel Opera operation.

Operation Peace for Galilee

During 1982 Operation Peace for Galilee, IAF warplans destroyed the Syrian air defence without a single fighter lost and shot down 80 Syrian aircraft (some claim that part of the Syrian aircraft shot down by the IAF were piloted by Soviet pilots). IAF AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunships have destroyed dozens of Syrian armored fighting vehicles and other ground targets, including many T-72 main battle tanks.

After the war has ended, the AH-1 Cobra and the IAF main activity during those years was to attack Hizbullah's and the PLO's positions in south Lebanon.

High Tech age (1990 and beyond)

Israeli  jet flying over .
Israeli F-16 jet flying over Masada.

During the 1990s the IAF upgraded most of its aircraft with advanced Israeli-made systems, improving the performances of the aircraft. In the 1990s the IAF also received the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship and equipped its aircraft with the Rafael Python 4, Popeye and Darby advanced Israeli missiles.

In the new millennium, the IAF bought the F-15i and the F-16i Sufa, two of the most advanced variants of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, manufactured specially for Israel according to the IAF requirements. The IAF has purchased 102 Sufa F-16I warplanes, the first planes arrived at the April, 2004. The IAF also purchased the advanced Israeli air-to-air missile Rafael Python 5, with full-sphere capability, considered among the best in its field.

During the al-Aqsa intifada, the IAF was largely employed in targeted killings of militant leaders, most notably Salah Shakhade, Mahmoud Abu-Hunud, Abu Ali Mustafa, Ahmed Yassin and Abed al-Aziz Rantissi. This policy is very controversial - mainly due to the collateral damage caused, but Israel claims it is vital to fight terrorism and that IAF pilots do whatever they can to avoid civilian casualties - including aborting strikes. This view is the prevalent one in Israel, with some exceptions.

In 2003, 27 Air Force Pilots composed a letter of protest to the Air Force Commander, announcing their refusal to continue and perform attacks on targets within Palestinian population centers, and claiming that the occupation of the Palestinians "morally corrupts the fabric of Israeli society". This letter, the first of its kind emanating from the Air Force, evoked a storm of political protest in Israel, with most circles condemning it as dereliction of duty. IDF ethics forbid soliders from making public political affiliations, and subsequently the IAF commander, Dan Halutz, announced that all signatories will be suspended from flight duty, after which some of the pilots repented and removed their signature.

After a landmark 1994 High Court appeal by Alice Miller, a Jewish immigrant from South Africa, the Air Force was instructed to open its pilots course to women. Miller failed the entrance exams, and the first female fighter pilot successfully received her wings in 2001 (several female navigators graduated before her).


Missing image

The insignia of the Israeli Air Force is a blue Star of David on a white circle. This is usually painted in six positions - on the top and bottom of each wing, and each side of the fuselage. Squadron markings are usually carried on the tail fin.

Records and highlights

The Israeli Air Force is considered the strongest air force in the Middle East, and one of the best and most sophisticated in the world. Many of its electronics and weapons systems are developed and built in Israel by Israeli Military Industries and Israeli Aircraft Industries. However, the greatest strength of the IAF is the skill of its pilots. Israeli combat pilots are considered the best in the world, and hold a large number of shoot-down records. It is rumored that American pilots receive training from their Israeli counterparts as part of their training curriculum.

The following is a report that reveals some of the skills of the IAF pilots:

"Israeli air force pilots handily beat their German counterparts in "dogfights" in the first ever air force exercise between the two countries, an Israeli military official said Monday.

The Israeli F-15 pilots, aided by special technology that Israel does not share or sell to other countries, beat the Germans by more than 100 "hits," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. In the past, Israel has beaten American air force pilots by similar margins, the officials added.

Israel purchases U.S. warplanes without battle technology, installing its own locally made systems into the aircraft.

The exercise was conducted over the past two weeks in the skies of Sardinia in Italy."

According to the IAF website:
687 enemy airplanes have been shot down in dogfights since Israel`s birth. Only 23 Israeli planes have been shot down by enemy planes since 1948 - a statistic which puts the dogfight victory ratio between Israel and its Arab neighbors at a whopping 30:1.

The IAF is holding world records at the amounts of enemy's warplanes shoot-downs, air combats, special operations, and air to ground operations at the jet era.

Some of the records and highlight moments are as follows:

  • June 5, 1967 - the Six Day War: The destruction of the entire Egyptian air-force within 3 hours. By the end of the day the Syrian and Jordanian air forces were wiped out as well. The IAF shoot-down total at the end of the war was a claimed record of 451 enemy aircraft downed versus of its own 10 downed. See: Operation Red Sheet.
  • March, 1969 until August, 1970- the War of Attrition: 111 enemy warplanes were shot-down in dogfights by IAF pilots while only 4 IAF warplanes were shot down in dogfights by enemy pilots.
  • Also, during the Cold-War the Soviet Union held close relationships with the Arab nations - On July 30, 1970 the tension peaked: A large scale air brawl between IAF planes and MiGs flown by Soviet pilots occurred- 5 MiGs flown by Soviet pilots were shot down, while the IAF suffered no losses.
  • October 9, 1973- the Yom Kippur War: The destruction of the Syrian General Staff in Damascus: On October 9th 1973, two F-4 Phantom quartets attacked and destroyed the Syrian General Staff Headquarters in the heart of Damascus. The Syrian Air Force Headquarters were damaged as well.
  • Also, during the Yom Kippur War, the IAF shot-downed 277 enemy warplanes- accounting for over a third of the IAF`s total kills since 1948.
  • Obtaining the first shoot-downs for the American fighter jets, the F-15 and the F-16. [1] (
  • June 7, 1981: The destruction of the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor. Eight IAF F-16 fighters flew to Iraq and bombed the nuclear facilties of Osiraq. Among the pilots that took part in the attack was the late Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut.
  • June 8, 1982 - the Peace for Galilee operation: The destruction of the entire Soviet-Syrian air-defence system in Lebanon within few hours without a single warplane lost; Syria with the U.S.S.R built up an overlapping network of surface-to-air missiles, and the density of SAM site locations was unmatched anywhere in the world including the U.S.S.R. itself. Also the IAF achieved in dogfights a total of 80 Syrian planes shoot-downs, without a single Israeli plane being shot down.
  • October 1, 1985: The bombing of PLO Headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, the longest combat mission ever undertaken by the IAF: 2300 kilometers, involving in flight refueling by an IAF Boeing 707.
  • The only documented successful emergency landing of an F-15 with one wing, the other torn off after an airborne collision with an A-4 Skyhawk. The Skyhawk exploded and its pilot ejected. Mcdonnell-Douglas, the F-15 Manufacturer, refused to believe it was possible until photos of the incident were shown. The F-15 was restored to flight status.
  • "Ace" pilots: 39 IAF pilots shot down at least 5 jet planes, 10 out of them shot down at least 8 jet planes.
  • "Ace of Aces": Major General Giora Epstein shot down 17<b> (seventeen) jet planes, holding the world record of jets shot down.
  • 126 enemy planes were shot down in dogfights in the years between the wars - most of them in the 70`s. The IAF lost only 2 planes in dogfights between the wars, in 1959 and in 1964.

See also: IAF shot-downs and kills record (

See also

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

External links


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