Robert F. Maguire Jr.
(1910 - 2005)
In 1948, the American World
War II veteran, Robert Maguire Jr.
was working for Alaska Airlines when
the airliner was contracted by the American
Distribution Joint Committee to help
airlift 40,000 Yemenite Jewish refugees
Upon request, Maguire agreed to be the
chief pilot of Operation
After Alaska Airlines withdrew from the deal a few
months later, Maguire established the Near East Air Transport to continue
the program. Independently, he purchased and chartered several small
airplanes. The operation finally took place in 1949. At any one time,
nearly 28 pilots were executing the airlift.
Although, the Imam of Yemen granted Israel permission to airlift the Jews, the operation was kept
secret for fear of surrounding Arab nations shooting down the planes.
In roughly 380 flights, no planes were downed and no lives were lost.
Maguire was an Episcopalian,
a native of Portland, Oregon, and a descendent
of British and Irish lineage. He was nicknamed
the “Irish Moses” by David
Ben-Gurion for leading the dangerous
operation. A few years before Operation Magic Carpet, Maguire helped
airlift Jewish refugees from China to
Israel. Following the operation, Maguire
led another operation, Ali Baba,
which airlifted thousands of Jews from Iraq and Iran to
In 2004, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles
awarded Maguire a medal of valor. On June 10, 2005, Robert Maguire Jr.
died, at the age of 94.