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Israel Air Force: Air Raid on the Syrian General Command

(October 9, 1973)

The Yom Kippur started at noon, October 6, 1973, with the combined assault of the Egyptian and Syrian military forces against Israeli forces on the Suez Canal in the south and the Golan Heights in the north. With the declared intention of avenging the disgrace of 1967, Arab forces surprised the unready Israelis and won a number of initial victories. Following Syrian attacks on Israeli population centers such as Migdal-Ha'emek on October 8 and the failure of the IAF to destroy the SAM arrays on the Golan heights (a single battery destroyed with the loss of six jets), the Israeli government decided to strike strategic and economic centers with the hope of passing the message across to the Syrians: The IAF was ready and able to surpass the SAM barriers while physically and morally disrupting Syrian operations. The first targets chosen were the Syrian General Command building and the adjoining Syrian Air Force Command, located in the heart of Damascus.

From two squadrons 16 Phantoms were allocated to the mission, planned overnight and led by Major L. Takeoff and achieving formation were carried out in complete radio silence and at a low height needed to avoid early detection. Shortly after takeoff one of the Phantoms in the first formation suffered a mechanical malfunction and had to return to base, leaving the remaining seven to continue. While weather was still fair over Israel, it got worse with the advance into Syria with heavy clouds and turbulence making navigation, formation, and low level flight very difficult, endangering safety and the element of surprise. Navigation soon became nearly impossible and abortion seemed like the only option but Major L. broke radio silence to push his team onwards. This soon paid off when a break was sighted in the clouds and the planes corrected their path, having flown a little off course. The Phantoms appeared over Damascus in complete surprise and except for a single shoulder launched SAM, no anti-aircraft fire was directed against the incoming bombers until after the first bombs had already hit their targets.

The seven Phantoms of the first formation entered their bombing runs—coming in at a low height, sharply pulling up, flipping onto their backs and diving into their targets—each plane releasing 5 tons of ammunition and then pulling away, evading the heavy anti aircraft (AA) fire that now erupted and making their way back to Israel. With the element of surprise gone, the defenses of the Syrian capital came to life, filling the sky with cannon fire. One Phantom was hit, the pilot losing his life and the navigator ejecting and falling into Syrian hands. Another plane was hit in one of the wings and an engine and was escorted back to Israel so that the pilot and navigator could eject there. This proved to be unnecessary and the plane safely landed in Ramat-David AFB.

The second formation of eight Phantoms had not made it to Damascus - the break in the clouds had closed and a prepared Syrian air defense was deemed too big a threat. The upper floors of the Syrian General Command were damaged as well as the air command, forcing them to move to alternate locations. Another target hit (by accident) was a nearby Soviet cultural center. For leading this mission and saving the stricken Phantom, Major L. received Israel's second highest wartime decoration— the Medal of Valor.

Sources: The Israeli Air Force - IDF/AF [Unofficial]