In honor of the eight nights of Hanukkah, IAF site takes a look at eight great operations of the IAF; from the 1948 War of Independence to the airlifting of Sudanese Jews to Operation “Protective Edge”
Hanukkah is here, and for eight straight nights the menorahs will illuminate many houses in celebration of the miracle of the cruse of oil. This year, IAF Site presents you with eight unique operations that made history.
The 1948 War of Independence, late at night: the first airplane lands in Israel, heavily armed. “The ‘Stork’ is here!” called the infantry forces that were in charge of the landing. The name of the operation: Operation “Stork”. The operation was commanded by Aharon Remez, wo would ultimately serve as Commander of the IAF. Two hundred rifles and other arms to be used in the war were transferred during the operation, a massive amount that could have tipped the balance of power at the time.
The cooperation between the air and ground forces came in handy in the 1956 Operation “Kachal”, a joint operation between IDF Special Forces and the IAF. Sikorsky S-58 helicopters airlifted the special ground forces for a classified intelligence mission in Egypt. The operation was the largest of its kind both in the number of helicopters and combat soldiers.
The IAF has continued to develop over the years and took part in many successful operations such as Operation “Present”, in which five helicopters took off for Beirut in 1986, where ground forces hit 14 empty Lebanese civilian airliners. The goal was to deter terrorists and the Lebanese Government from carrying out additional attacks.
Over the years, the IAF has also taken part in more distant missions, some of which have been of a less military nature. As part of the “Southern Operations”, the Jews of Sudan and Ethiopia were airlifted to Israel in what has come to be called the “immigration of the Beta Israel Jews”. A group of hundreds of Jews was brought to Israel from the 60s to the 80s in a series of secret operations. The culmination of all the operations was Operation “Moses” (1985) in which around 8,000 Jews from the Ethiopian community were brought to Israel.
Years later, during the 90s, the northern border became the scene of a daily struggle between the IDF and terrorists. Due to the escalation in Hezbollah activities against the IDF and the residents of the north, Operation “Grapes of Wrath” was launched. During the operation, IAF planes took off on more than 2000 flights and destroyed dozens of terrorist targets. Among the targets that were hit in Beirut was the power plant. “We went together, we desended at a 60-degree angle and we released four bombs above the power stations”, said Lieutenant Colonel H’, who took part in the flight. “The type of bombs that we dropped usually cause a very big black mushroom cloud, but the moment I pulled and turned the wing, suddenly I noticed a kind of large electric explosion, just like in the movies. It created a circle of light, sparks and flashes from the electricity poles that exploded and went flying. It was really an amazing sight”.
In 2002, during Operation “Defensive Shield” and Passover, the airborne combat Search & Rescue Unit 669 was dispatched to evacuate dozens of casualties in the territories. The night IDF force entered Ramallah is the one that marked the start of Operation “Defensive Shield”. Over the next few days, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalqilya were occupied. In order to provide the forces with medical backup as quickly as possible, Unit 669 was put on high alert. “From the first night of Passover we worked round the clock”, says then-Major Arik, Evacuation Branch Commander in the unit. “We were called up for a series of dispatches to evacuate injured soldiers in the territories by helicopter. In order to deal with the situation I had to call up reservists in the unit. Needless to say, everyone came”.
The last few years have not kept the IAF from dealing with the challenges on the different fronts. As such, during Operation “Cast Lead”, which took place in 2008, the IAF worked in cooperation with ground forces. During the operation, which began during Hanukkah, IAF aircrafts hit dozens of terrorist targets, as well as weapons-smuggling tunnels.
Operation “Protective Edge”, which finished just a few months ago, was characterized by the expansion of the enemy missile range. But during the operation, a new player joined the war: the “Iron Dome” system. The system proved itself for the first time during Operation “Pillar of Defense” and during the most recent operation proved itself a second time, when the combat soldiers of the “Iron Dome” system intercepted hundreds of rockets. “Using a combination of active defense against the rockets, efficient warning system and better protected areas, it seems when it comes to dealing with rockets fired on Israel, we won that competition”, claims Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies.