The Israeli Air Force, “Kheil HaAvir” in Hebrew (meaning "Air Corps"), is universally recognized to be among the world’s most powerful aerial fighting forces. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Air Force has played a major role in securing the country’s numerous military victories. Today, the IAF remains a central pillar of the Israel Defense Forces, deterring terrorist threats and ensuring Israel’s strategic advantage in wartime.
One third of the IDF’s manpower is in the IAF. The Air Force is made up of fighting forces that play a variety of roles in defending Israel’s home front. The IAF is best known for its distinguished staff of pilots, which ranks among the most elite in the world. Twice every year, a highly-select group of pilots graduates from the IAF’s elite flight academy. Graduates of the academy compete with thousands of other candidates, and complete three years of grueling training in order to become pilots.
IAF soldiers wear beige uniforms and grey berets.
A history of success
The Israeli Air Force was established during the War of Independence in 1948. Preceded by the Sherut Avir, the air wing of the Haganah (which was later to become Israeli Defense Forces), it was composed of a small group of people and only a few planes. Recruits and aircraft joined the young force, bringing in valuable skills and equipment.
During the War of Independence, the IAF intercepted enemy aircraft, supported ground forces, and went on attack sorties in Cairo, Damascus, and Amman. After the war, most of the foreign volunteers were released, and the IAF, which now relied on Israeli pilots only, began organizing its air bases.
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 abilities were 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 Operation Focus, almost entirely destroying the Egyptian Air Force, and severely damaging the air forces of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.
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 after they had been kidnapped in Athens, and then brought to Uganda. The IAF’s Hercules planes transported the forces and their equipment to Uganda, which 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.
Battling terrorism in the 21st century
In the early 2000s, the IAF was heavily involved in various operations in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, destroying strategic terrorist targets and intelligence missions.
During the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, the IAF destroyed Hezbollah rocket launch pads and 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.
On November 14, 2012, in response to incessant rocket attacks in the Gaza Strip, the IDF launched Operation Pillar of Defense, a widespread campaign against terror targets in Gaza. During the operation, the IAF surgically targeted terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip, resulting in significant damage to Hamas infrastructure.
Hamas significantly increased rocket fire on Southern Israel in June 2014. In response, the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge. The IAF carried out numerous air attacks aimed at Hamas arms caches, launch ramps, and terrorist infrastructures.