The Israel Air Force was born during the War of Independence in 1948. Preceded by the Sherut Avir, the air wing of the Haganah (that was later to become Israeli Defense Forces), it was a small group of people and only a few planes. Recruits and aircraft joined the young force bringing in valuable skills, aircraft, and equipment.
On May 29, 1948, the IAF deployed for the first time, and using four Czechoslovakian Messerschmitt planes, helped to bring to a halt an Egyptian advance near the port city of Ashdod. During the War of Independence, the IAF intercepted enemy aircraft, supported ground forces, and went on attack sorties in Cairo, Damascus, and Amman. With the war's end, most of the foreign volunteers were released, and the IAF, which now relied on Israeli pilots only, began organizing its air bases, formulating its combat policies and establishing new squadrons which were equipped with new aircraft.
In early 1950s, the IAF was well organized from an administrative and operational perspectives. Control systems were developed and the use of aerial photography became an important source of intelligence. In 1953, the IAF entered the Jet Era, when British Meteor aircraft joined the force. In 1956, the IAF performed multiple roles in Operation Kadesh (the Israeli operation in the Sinai Peninsula); dropping paratroopers over Sinai, destroying Egyptian communication lines, conducting rescue missions, supporting ground forces and launching aerial attacks.
In the 1960s, the IAF continued adopting new aircraft, and its combat policy, strategy, and ability was put to a test in a long series of air clashes with Egypt, Syria and Jordan. At the initial stages of the Six Day War, the IAF executed a Operation Focus, almost entirely destroying the Egyptian air force, and severely damaging the air forces of Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Having gained aerial superiority, the IAF then provided complete support to ground forces.
During the War of Attrition, the IAF fought on all fronts. The most intense battles took place on the Egyptian frontier: Air battles, attacks on missile batteries along the Suez Canal and attacks on targets deep in the heart of Egypt. Joint operations with ground forces also took place in Jordan Valley and the Egyptian front. During these years, the IAF continued to acquire better and more sophisticated aircraft and in early 1970s it first entered the world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The Yom Kippur War in 1973 was a big test for the IAF. From the early hours of the war, IAF aircraft supported efforts to halt Egyptian and Syrian advances, engaged in air battles, attacked enemy ground forces, bombed enemy airports, and attacked strategic targets. The greatest threat to the IAF was posed by surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles. A large number of IAF planes were shot down. A great deal of effort was spent in the post-war years to tackle this challenge and minimize its threat.
In July 1976, Operation Entebbe led to the safe return of Israeli hostages from the plane kidnapped in Athens, and then brought to Uganda. IAF’s Hercules planes transported the forces and their equipment to Uganda, who then returned to Israel with the hostages. In 1978, IAF aircraft supported Operation Litani. In June 1981, IAF jets destroyed the nuclear reactor in Iraq. A year later, the IAF attacked strategic targets during the First Lebanon War and engaged in aerial battles, taking down around 100 Syrian planes. In Operation Mole Cricket 19, IAF aircraft destroyed Syrian anti-aircraft missile batteries in Lebanon.
In the 1980s, the IAF assisted with the mass repatriation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In October 1985, the IAF attacked the Palestinian Liberation Organization command center in Tunisia in Operation Wooden Leg.
In the first years of the 21st century, the IAF was heavily involved in various operations in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, destroying strategic terrorist targets, and intelligence missions, especially since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
During the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, the IAF destroyed rocket launch pads, terrorist infrastructure, provided support to ground forces, evacuated injured soldiers, gathered intelligence, and transported forces deep into Lebanese territory.
During Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, the IAF launched with a broad aerial attack on Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Throughout the operation, the IAF provided ongoing support to ground forces, gathered intelligence, evacuated the wounded, and targeted terrorist rocket launch pads.
Functions of the IAF:
- To defend from the air Israel and all areas where the IDF is operating.
- To gain aerial superiority over all fronts on which the IDF is engaged.
- To engage in combat against targets on land and at sea.
- To strike targets deep inside the heart of enemy territory.
- To gather and assess aerial intelligence and to contribute to the IDF's general intelligence assessments.
- To transport forces, weaponry and equipment by air to designated destinations.
- To conduct search and rescue missions, as well as aerial evacuation missions.
- To carry out special operations.
- To develop aerial forces.