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Israel Air Force: History & Overview

The 1980's provided the IAF with many new challenges. Apart from its achievements in the 1982 air war over Lebanon and many special operations such as the raids over Baghdad and Tunis, the IAF underwent a period of transition. The Camp David agreements brought long-awaited peace with Egypt but forced the evacuation of Israeli-designed bases in the Sinai. Three new bases were inaugurated. Adjustments also had to be made due to the loss of training airspace. Moreover, redefining the force structure became a major concern in light of continuing Arab arms purchases, as opposed to Israel's need to cut defense spending during a historic period of immigration.

Today's IAF includes a variety of aircraft and systems which enable it to meet the challenge posed by an ever-growing threat, anywhere and anytime.

The 1985 attack against the PLO headquarters in Tunis demonstrated the long reach of the IAF. One year later, an incredible rescue mission over Lebanon culminated with a downed pilot clutching the skid of a Cobra attack helicopter. In December 1988, during a special operation against terrorist bases in southern Lebanon, IAF helicopters located and retrieved Israeli soldiers who had become separated form the main force. This reaffirmed a fundamental IDF policy of never leaving troops behind in combat.

In a very different role, the IAF directed Operation Solomon in 1991,which brought the remnant of Ethiopia's Jewish community home to Israel.

Israelis living in the Beit Shean Valley in the lower Galilee were awoken abruptly at 4:15 a.m. on February 10, 2018, by warning sirens tripped automatically when an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace.  The drone, launched from an Iranian outpost in Syria, was believed to be on an intelligence-gathering mission when it was detected and subsequently shot down by an Israeli Apache helicopter.  Four Israeli F-16 fighter jets bombed the Iranian-controlled launch caravan in Syria less than an hour after the incident; the first ever Israeli strike on a site where Iranian forces were present.  Upon returning from their mission one of the four Israeli jets was downed over Israeli territory by shrapnel from one of 15-20 Syrian anti-aircraft missiles fired at them.  The pilots were able to eject and survived with non-life threatening injuries, and their jet crash-landed near an empty school in the kibbutz community of Hardouf.  This was the first time that the IAF had lost a plane since 1982.  

The IAF performs a wide range of duties. Its ten primary missions have been defined as follows:

  • To defend Israel's airspace and the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) area of operations.
  • To achieve air superiority above the area of combat and to participate in the ground war.
  • To attack strategic targets in enemy territory.
  • To participate in combat in the naval theatre.
  • To carry out air transport operations.
  • Providing air intelligence as part of the general intelligence picture.
  • To carry out aerial photography missions for all IDF needs.
  • To preform air search-and-rescue missions.
  • To assist civil aviation authorities in command, control and services (as required)

Sources: IDF