“He was my commander in three squadrons in Hatzor, and then Ramat David, and then suddenly he wasn’t anymore” More than 40 years have passed since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but war has been seared into the national consciousness. Dozens of aircrews did not return and among them the late Brigadier General Zorik Lev, who was the Ramat David airbase commander. Brigadier General (res.) Arik Azuz, tells the story of the northern airbase and its commander
Michal Khayut and Shir Cohen
On the morning of Yom Kippur in 1973, Brigadier General (res.) Arik Azuz, aviation squadron commander of the Ramat David airbase, was awoken at 5:50 am by a telephone call he received from the operations secretary. On the line was then-IAF Commander, the late Major General Benny Palad and the commanders of different airbases. “I heard the IAF Commander say: ‘Listen up, we know for certain that war will break out today at 6:00pm. We won’t wait. We will go out on a preventative strike against the Syrian SAM Divisions in the Golan Heights’”, recalls Brigadier General (res.) Azuz. “We received the instruction to prepare the operational command, to arm the jets and to prepare accordingly”.
At 2:00pm, the orders were given for urgent dispatch from the Regional Control Unit at Mt. Hermon to the Ramat David airbase. “We prepared for a possible strike on the enemy around 6:00pm, but at 2:00pm we were told to dispatch to the air with every possible jet”, he says of the moment the war broke out. “Meanwhile, more than 40 flight paths of Syrian MiG fighters flying towards Israel were discovered”.
Despite the large number of fighters that took off from the base, the aircrews were not able to intercept any of the MiGs breaching Israeli airspace. “The Syrians approached us exactly as we had attacked during the Six Day War. They flew at a low altitude, at high speeds above the ground so that they could avoid being detected; they did what they did and left”.
“Because he was a fighter”
The next evening was the first opportunity of the late Brigadier General Arlozor (Zorik) Lev, base commander, to sleep since the war had broken out. But not much time passed before he found himself on his feet again, because of the barrage of Syrian “Frog” missiles that were fired at Ramat David. Two of the missiles even hit the base.
The late Brigadier General Lev flew out from Ramat David with 3 wing mates to attack the SAM (Surface-Air-Missile) batteries north of the Suez Canal. One of the jets suffered a malfunction on the way and as a result only 3 of them reached the area of the target. The flying formation flew at a low altitude above the surface of the sea and then pulled upwards in order to carry out the airstrike. The leader informed the others he was moving in on the target and so did Brigadier General Lev, but when they left the flying formation to attack, the airbase commander’s jet disappeared. “Zorik disappeared and questions arose”, recalls Brigadier General Azuz. “Why did he go out on a flight? Zorik went out on a flight because he was a fighter. He was a pilot and he would not pass on the opportunity. A commander has to fly in order to know what is happening and to know what the situation is with his forces”.
“Zorik, as far as I am concerned, was a fellow combat soldier”, he adds. “He was my commander in 3 squadrons in Hatzor and then Ramat David and then suddenly, he wasn’t anymore. People might have thought that he flew out in order to provide moral support, but that’s not accurate. No one knew that he had flown out, except the flight formation leader and the secretary. Zorik went out on the flight because he was a fighter, that’s what he was”.