In the spring of 1982, Palestinian terrorists entrenched themselves in Southern Lebanon, creating an informal state-within-a-state. From there they dispatched terrorists on murderous missions abroad and fired Katyusha rockets and artillery at civilian targets in Israel's northern Galilee region. On June 3, 1982, Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov was gunned down and critically wounded near his London home. The next day Israeli jets bombed P.L.O. ammunition depots and training bases. This triggered a massive P.L.O. bombardment against Israel's northern settlements, causing extensive damage and loss of life.
On June 6, the IDF launched Operation Peace for the Galilee with the purpose of removing the threat to Israel's northern settlements. Israeli units advanced along three major north-south routes, destroying P.L.O. bases and their terrorist infrastructure along the way.
IAF fighters and attack helicopters bombed terrorist strongholds, clearing the way for the ground forces. Transport helicopters provided around-the-clock tactical, logistic support. They airlifted fuel and ammunition to front-line troops when the three narrow roads which wind their way north into Lebanon became clogged. They also played a life-saving role by rapidly evacuating wounded to Israeli hospitals.
But the most spectacular achievement of the war was the destruction of the Syrian surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites in the Bekaa Valley. The IAF was equally impressive in air-to-air combat, downing about 90 Syrian Migs without loss.
Future historians will point to many important features of the air war over Lebanon. First and foremost, the IAF re-affirmed its undisputed aerial superiority. This was the first major conflict in which F-15's and F-16's could demonstrate their awesome prowess. It was also the first time that the IAF employed the Cobra and Defender attack helicopters on a wide scale. One of the war's greatest successes was achieved by its smallest participant: the locally produced mini-RPV (remotely piloted vehicle).
These tiny, propeller-driven craft beamed down real-time intelligence to air force and battlefield commanders, giving them a decisive edge in the rapidly unfolding combat arena. Another source of pride for the Israel Aircraft Industry (IAI) was the superb performance of the Kfir fighter bomber. Last but not least, honorable mention will be saved for the F-4 Phantom, which pounded home a reminder that it will be around for quite some time.
The Destruction of the Syrian Surface-to-Air Missiles (June 9, 1982)
In the spring of 1981, Israeli reconnaissance photography revealed a dangerous new development. Syria had begun to move Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) batteries into the neutral territory of Lebanon. During the course of the next year, Syria built up an overlapping network of SAMs, which included Soviet SA-2, SA-3 and mobile SA-6 missiles in the Bekaa Valley and along the Zabadani mountain range above it. The density of SAM site locations was unmatched anywhere in the world—including the U.S.S.R. itself!
Because the SAMs were so effective in 1973, many experts had come to believe that “the missile had clipped the aircraft's wings.” Few realized the intensity with which the IAF had prepared to settle the score with its ground-based adversary.
On the fourth day of the war, in a coordinated attack utilizing decoys, anti-radiation missiles and several locally developed systems, the IAF methodically destroyed every one of the threatening SAM batteries. It was almost as if fighter pilots were exacting a kind of personal revenge for the harsh treatment they had received years earlier, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
During the attack, the Syrians sent up dozens of interceptors. Twenty-two Mig-21's and Mig-23's were downed in mass dogfights. Stripped of its surface-to-air defense, Syria continued to flood the Bekaa Valley with fighters over the next few days. Israeli F-15's and F-16's roamed the area without fear of SAMs and raised the total number of aerial victories to about 90. Incredibly, not a single Israeli fighter was lost during the risky attack against the SAMs or in the ensuing dogfights. The IAF once again proved that it was master of the skies.
Sources: Israel Defense Forces