This week, in 1985, the farthest attack in the history of the IAF was executed: The attack on the Palestine Liberation Organization Headquarters in Tunisia
On the morning of October 1st, 1985, 10 “F-15 Eagle” planes along with two “Boeing 707” planes took off from an IAF Airbase to a secretive destination indeed, 1,280 miles away from Israel borders. It was the opening call to the “Wooden Leg” operation, in which IAF planes struck the PLO Headquarters in Tunisia. The operation included two aerial refuelings and holds the record to this day of farthest ranged attack ever conducted by the IAF.
“Any place in the world”
The attack was not formulated in one day: The summer of 1985 marked the beginning of a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli targets. In response, the IDF began considering retaliation. The final straw was the murder of three Israelis on a yacht anchored in the Larnaca Port in Cyprus.
After the PLO’s “Force 17” took responsibility for the attack, a decision was immediately made to attack the PLO headquarters in Tunisia, in an action that would serve as retaliation and a warning for the future.
The choice of destination for the attack, explained then Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin, was made to make clear that “the PLO is not immune in any place in the world. The IDF will find a way to obtain the responsible and punish them”.
The attack was planned concurrently by the three branches of the IDF, with the original intention of executing a combined operation by the Israeli Air Force, Navy and Ground Forces. The low danger level and short notice of aerial attacks are what eventually designated the attributes of the operation. The plan was presented to the government by the Commander of the IAF, Major General (Res.) Amos Lapidot.
After listening to the description of the flight, which includes flying outside of accepted routes to maintain the element of surprise, Prime Minister Shimon Peres authorized the operation.
“Everything was executed perfectly”
Two of the planes accompanied the attack only halfway before returning to Israel. The attack itself was executed by two quartets of “F-15 Eagle” planes. Toward 11:00 AM, the planes arrived at Tunisia and carried out the operation with great success.
“The pressure was on during those seconds”, described Lieutenant Colonel Michael, one of the pilots who participated in the attack. “Your blood receives an extra dose of adrenaline and you’re completely focused on execution. Only after leaving the flight path over the targets did I see that the munitions hit the target perfectly”.
After the short attack that lasted several minutes, the planes changed directions and returned to Israel.
“The emotions were mixed. You can see you left great devastation there, but you also know that everything was executed perfectly”, shared Lieutenant Colonel Michael. “The return home was a lot more meaningful, it was uplifting. When we landed the entire squadron was waiting for us, everyone was emotional. I stepped off the plane and only when I realized that it carried no ammunition, did it start sinking in. Yes, yes. I was there”.