By 1979, when the production of the type ended, over 5,000 Phantom IIs had been built around the world. The prototype XF4H-1 was first flown in May 1958, having been developed as a carrier fighter for the U.S. Navy. The first versions were the F-4A and F-4B for the Navy, followed by the C,D and E for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The Phantom was the main U.S. fighter in the Vietnam war and served in numerous other air forces around the world, including those of Britain (RAF and Navy, built in Britain), Germany, Japan, Turkey and Iran.
The most widely used Phantom II version was the F-4E, with 1,329 produced for the USAF alone. The aircraft had built itself such a reputation that it was the inevitable choice when the Israeli Air Force came to choose its new fighter, following the six days war, and over the years 204 had been supplied, some as attrition replacements for losses suffered during the Yom Kippur war. The first Phantom landed in Israel on September 5, 1969, and was quickly put into action in the War of Attrition that raged along the Suez Canal. The first attack on October 22 was directed against an SA-2 battery. Its first aerial victory came on November,11 1969, when 2 Phantoms encountered 4 Egyptian Mig-21s and shot one of them down. During the Yom Kippur War, the fighter equipped 7 squadrons and was the main Israeli fighter of the war. It also played a major part in the destruction of the Syrian SAMs in the Bekaa Valley in 1982 and in service in the IAF has downed 116.5 enemy aircraft.
Since 1980, the Israeli Air Force, together with Israel Aircraft Industries, have engaged in an upgrade program for the fighter, resulting in the Kurnass 2000, with revised electronics,cockpit and radar upgrades, structural strengthening and more. The first Kurnass 2000 flew on August 11, 1987, and the type was declared operational by the air force on April 9, 1988. It has since taken part in the everyday operations of the air force and had seen combat in attacks on terrorist bases in Lebanon.
The Phantom RF-4E
The reconnaissance versions of the Phantom have enjoyed great success in U.S. service for more than 30 years, since August 8, 1963, when the first prototype took to the air for the first time. In mid-1974 this formula was adopted for Israel by General Dynamics in the "Peace Jack" program with 3 F-4Es converted to RF-4Es with enhanced photographic capability. Although the service record of these is unknown in public, much less published, it was told somewhere that one of these was shot down during the 1982 Lebanese war and a special sortie was staged to destroy the wreckage and the avionics within before Syrian troops reached it and retrieved classified material.
More about the Phantom II in Israeli service:
Sources: IAF Inventory