During the “War of Attrition” the F-4 Phantom arrived to the IAF and changed everything
Eliyah Levitan | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida
Most of the “War of Attrition” (1967-1970) focused on the Suez Canal area in the Egyptian front, inasmuch as the Egyptians found it difficult to accept the overwhelming defeat by Israel in the “Six Day” War and set the attrition of Israel as a goal. On January 7, 1970, 46 years ago today, IAF jets took off for series of operations in the depth of Egyptian territory which received the name “Priha” (Blossom) Operations and continued until April of the same year.
On February 1969, a delegation of ten carefully chosen pilots left for the U.S, after the U.S agreed to sell the F-4 Phantom to Israel. “There was a yearning in the IAF for the arrival of the jet. We knew about it, we wanted it and there wasn’t a meeting between senior Israeli leadership with U.S representatives in which the subject wasn’t brought up. We knew it would come and finally they agreed”, recalled Brig. Gen (Res.) Yoram Agmon, which was one of the delegation members and the Deputy Commander of the “One” Squadron, the first squadron to operate the fighter jet.
“Upon arriving at our training base in the U.S, we met the Phantom for the first time”, shared Brig. Gen (Res.) Agmon. “The first time we went out and saw it, was depressing. Lopsided shape, large, heavy. You don’t understand how it flies, let alone takes off. Until you get to the first flight. You sit on the cockpit, starting both engines, slam into the seat and say ‘wow’, that was something else’. And then its shape begins to seem beautiful to you. You begin to fall in love with it”.
While the U.S delegation studied the plane, a war raged on Israel borders. “We did everything we could to return to Israel as quickly as possible. We knew we were arriving straight into the ‘War of Attrition’ and that we would need to train the aircrews in minimum time, because the planes were going to arrive 4 a month. And so it was. Training the pilots was an operation. It took us a month and a half to prepare the new pilots and the moment we could – we attacked”.
The Russians are Coming
Throughout the war, the USSR supported Egypt and provided the country with SAM Batteries, weapons, equipment and in later stages even military advisors, technicians and combatants. “The ‘War of Attrition’ was not simple, we needed to utilize the Phantom. In the beginning of 1970 it was decided to escalate the battle, credited with the arrival of the Phantom, because with them we suddenly had the ability to expand our actions”, testified Agmon. “This was the background for the beginning of the ‘Blossoms’ in Janury 1970”. And the depth attacks had immediate effects. A few weeks after the first depth attack in Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser (then president of Egypt) flew to the Soviet Union in completer secrecy and begged for assistance.
“The Russians arrived with equipment, transferred missile batteries and anti-aircraft weapons in such enormous amounts that every time we destroyed a battery, the next day it was already new and manned. Nonetheless, we continued with the depth strikes, which caused great havoc in Egypt. At one point, the Russians addressed the U.S and demanded them to make us stop the depth attacks, or else they will intervene in the war”.
“Fighting us with aerial force – is pointless”
Even after the discontinuing of the depth attacks in April, the fighting continued the Suez Canal area, until the U.S suggested an initiative for a cease fire. On July 23 1970 Abdel Nasser announces his countries agreement with the American initiative. Israel on the other hand, announces its consent on August 7th and the cease fire was set to come into force on midnight of the same day. Agmon tells us about the battle’s final flight, on that day.
“I flew the last flight, on the night between the 7th and 8th of August. Ten minutes before the cease fire began, we were on night patrol in the area above the canal, in order to respond if anything unusual was to happen. It was completely silent, dark”, he shares.
“At ten minutes to midnight – I remember it as if it was yesterday, suddenly, the ground lit up. A caravan of vehicles which stood ready to drive with their lights off, turned their lights on and began driving towards the canal with missiles and anti-aircraft weapons. Nonetheless, Israel honored the cease fire which was about to begin”.
“I have no doubt that the depth attacks brought a clear Egyptian understanding that fighting us with aerial force without neutralizing us – is pointless”
Kings of the Sky
“The ‘Phantom’ made a fundamental change, a strategic change to be exact”, Agmon states. “Its ability was above and beyond anything known beforehand. Six Tons of ammunition, heavy bombs, a radar which sees the whole Middle East, high speeds, impressive low height flying abilities, we felt like kings of the sky. We felt like there was nothing in the Middle East that we couldn’t do with this plane”.