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War of Attrition, 1969­1970

By Tom Cooper
Sep 24, 2003, 20:09

After   the   end   of   the   Six   Day   War,   the   Israelis   attempted   to   develop   good
defensive positions along the borders of the newly conquered Sinai Peninsula
and on Golan. The Arabs ­ especially Egypt ­ were still under the shock of
the severe defeat, but wanted to hit back at every opportunity. Initially,
the   Egyptian   Air   Force,   re­named   back   from   UARAF   in   1968   ­   was   foremost
trying to shake­down the sad memories and also the wrong lessons from its
Soviet instructors, who trained the Arab pilots to fight at high levels and
intercept   straight­flying   targets   using   MiG­21s   and   air­to­air   missiles.
Neither the aircraft nor ist main armament, the R­3S (AA­2 Atoll) missile,
were   actually   built   to   fight   at   low   levels   and   against   hard   manoeuvring
opponents,   but   the   Egyptians   were   now   about   to   adapt   them   for   this   task.
Namely,   the   Israelis   have   deployed   several   long­range   radar   stations   on
mountain peaks of Sinai, as well as a number of MIM­23 HAWK SAM­sites, while
IDF/AF   interceptors   were   permanently   based   at   several   local   airfields,
foremost   Bir   al­Jifjafa   (now   renamed   into   Refidim),   from   where   they   were
able to swiftly react to every Egyptian attack. 

Recognizing the Israeli superiority in air combat arena, but willing to hit
back, the Egyptians properly concluded that in order to hit their targets in
Sinai   and   return   safely,   they   had   to   use   the   moment   of   surprise.
Consequently, their fighter­bombers had to fly low. Another consequence was
that  the   Egyptian  interceptor­pilots   had  to   learn  how   to  fight   with  their
MiG­21s at low levels as well, then this was where they were now about to
engage   the   Israelis.   While   they   would   be   learning   to   do   so,   and   because
there was no guarantee that the MiGs could always intercept their targets in
time,   the   SAMs   were   to   increasingly   take   over   the   air   defence   of   most
important areas. 

The   Israelis,   on   the   other   side,   were   foremost   interested   in   holding   the
Egyptians back, but only enough not to provoke a major confrontation. From
their standpoint it was imperative to impose heavy attrition upon the Arabs,
showing them that all their efforts were in vain. 

Despite the losses they were about to suffer, the Egyptians would not give
up:   they   would   neither   stop   learning   nor   attacking   the   Israelis.
Consequently,   this   process   resulted   in   very   intensive   operations   over   the
Suez   and   the   Sinai,   flown   by   both   sides.   It   was   eventually   to   become   so
painful and costly for both sides, that by 1970 this "War of Attrition" was
more than either Israel or Egypt could bear. Both sides were therefore more
than glad to be able to disengage under the pressure of foreign powers, the
USA and USSR. 

The   Soviets   were   relatively   swift   to   replace   the   losses   suffered   by   the
UARAF during the Six Day War: by the end of the year over 70 MiG­21PFs and
MiG­21PFMs were delivered, together with a similar number of MiG­17Fs, and
some   Su­7s.   Consequently,   the   UARAF   did   not   took   long   to   rebuilt   its
strength   ­   at   least   theoretically   ­   to   the   levels   from   before   the   war   in
1967. However, the UARAF has suffered a heavy loss in qualified pilots and
needed not only several years to train new crews, but even more so, working
according the "trial­and­error" method, it needed time and combat experience
to   train   these   properly,   while   fighting   from   a   position   of   a   humiliating
defeat. 

Besides,   the   Egyptians   had   to   go   through   this   process   with   the   same
equipment they had before and that was not only defeated in the Six Day War,
but  also   more  than   well­known  to   the  Israelis.   The  Soviets,   interested  in
Egypt   only   from   the   aspect   of   the   Cold   War   struggle   for   influence   in   the
Middle   East   and   Africa,   were   neither   ready   nor   really   able   to   deliver
aircraft   and   armament   equal   or   superior   to   that   of   the   Israelis.   At   the
time, the advanced versions of the MiG­21PF, and the old R­3S missile, were
actually   the   best   they   could   supply.   Certainly,   they   had   a   number   of
slightly   more   powerful   and   capable   systems   in   service   at   home,   but   they
would   not   supply   these   to   the   Arabs,   and   the   worth   of   such   fighters   like
Yak­25 or Su­9 for a conflict like fought between Egypt and Israel can only
be questioned. The USSR, namely, was only now developing a new generation of
fighters   ­   including   MiG­23   and   MiG­25,   as   well   as   the   Su­15   ­   that   were
designed   to   challenge   such   Western   types   like   F­104   Starfighter,   F­105
Thunderchief, and the F­4 Phantom in power and armament, and these were not
to become ready for service for a number of years to come. 

Therefore,   the   Egyptian   Air   Force   ­   renamed   back   from   "UARAF"   in   1968   ­
entered   what   later   became   known   as   the   "War   of   Attrition"   not   only
undermanned, but also undergunned and undertrained. 

The Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) was to become the "third" factor in the
air­to­air arena of the War of Attrition, but ­ even if it was not to see
anything like an involvement of the Egyptian or the Israeli air forces ­ it
was one to go through the most dramatic development in the time between 1967
and   1973.   From   a   relatively   small   force,   capable   only   of   limited   point
defence   and   badly   damaged   by   Israeli   raids   in   June   1967,   the   SyAAF   was
developed   into   a   strong   and   professional   force.   The   MiG­21­force   was
significantly   increased,   and   the   MiG­17­units   reinforced.   The   Syrians   have
also got Su­7s, but in general their fighter­bombers did not take part in
the fighting before the next war in 1973. 

In all possible publications about the Egyptian and Syrian air forces it is
often   explained   how   both   were   reorganized   along   "Soviet   principles"   after
the Six Day War. This was only partially truth. For example, while both the
EAF and the SyAAF have had their squadrons put under command by air brigades
or air regiments, the importance of the squadron remained the same as before
­   something   that   was   unheard   of   in   the   Soviet   system.   The   Egyptians   had
their   Air   Brigades   organized   already   before   the   war   in   1967,   and   have
subsequently only changed their designations: this was done several times,
but was essentially everything. Actually all the Egyptian and Syrian units
very much continued following their traditions, even if many ­ especially in
the EAF ­ were re­named, or split into two units, re­equipped with different
aircraft, while some were disbanded. Even the use of unit insignia was not
discontinued: it was only so that none was applied on aircraft. Within the
SyAAF there was even less of the change, then the Air Brigade structure was
not introduced until after the war in 1973, even if the number of units was
doubled between 1967 and 1973. 

Other Arab air arms were not to take part in the War of Attrition, even if
an   Algerian   detachment   was   active   with   the   EAF   until   1968,   and   from   1970
again (albeit it was stationed in Libya during its second stint). 

Above  and   bellow:  immediately   after  the   Six  Day   War  the   Egyptians  started
camouflaging   their   MiGs   ­   a   late   measure,   proposed   several   times   already
before the catastrophe of the 5 June 1967. In emergency, and lacking other
suitable colours, the Egyptians used a stock from a car factory at Hulwan!
This   early   camouflage   pattern   was   later   to   become   known   ­   albeit   in   a
modified   form   ­   as   "Nile   Valley".   It   consisted   of   Sand,   Black,   and   Light
Grey   colours.   Serials   were   still   applied,   albeit   not   as   prominently   as
before,   and   unit   insignia   completely   disappeared:   after   all,   innitially
after   the   Six   Day   War   all   the   surviving   aircraft   and   pilots   were
concentrated within two "Big Squadrons", and only slowly through 1968 were
the old units re­established. (all artworks by Tom Cooper unless otherwise
stated)
New Friends for the IDF/AF

The  IDF/AF   has  suffered   some  pretty   painful  losses   in  aircraft   and  pilots
during the Six Day War, and was then hit severely by the French embargo on
arms   deliveries,   introduced   because   the   French   President   de   Gaulle   felt
personally insulted by the Israelis initiating the war despite his warnings
not to do so. While they were later able to recover or clandestinely receive
some   powerful   and   capable   systems   in   service   at   home,   but   they   would   not
supply these to the Arabs, and the worth of such fighters like Yak­25 or Su­
9   for   a   conflict   like   fought   between   Egypt   and   Israel   can   only   be
questioned.  The   USSR,  namely,   was  only   now  developing   a  new   generation  of
fighters   ­   including   MiG­23   and   MiG­25,   as   well   as   the   Su­15   ­   that   were
designed   to   challenge   such   Western   types   like   F­104   Starfighter,   F­105
Thunderchief, and the F­4 Phantom in power and armament, and these were not
to become ready for service for a number of years to come. 

Therefore,   the   Egyptian   Air   Force   ­   renamed   back   from   "UARAF"   in   1968   ­
entered   what   later   became   known   as   the   "War   of   Attrition"   not   only
undermanned, but also undergunned and undertrained. 

The Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) was to become the "third" factor in the
air­to­air arena of the War of Attrition, but ­ even if it was not to see
anything like an involvement of the Egyptian or the Israeli air forces ­ it
was one to go through the most dramatic development in the time between 1967
and   1973.   From   a   relatively   small   force,   capable   only   of   limited   point
defence   and   badly   damaged   by   Israeli   raids   in   June   1967,   the   SyAAF   was
developed   into   a   strong   and   professional   force.   The   MiG­21­force   was
significantly   increased,   and   the   MiG­17­units   reinforced.   The   Syrians   have
also got Su­7s, but in general their fighter­bombers did not take part in
the fighting before the next war in 1973. 

In all possible publications about the Egyptian and Syrian air forces it is
often   explained   how   both   were   reorganized   along   "Soviet   principles"   after
the Six Day War. This was only partially truth. For example, while both the
EAF and the SyAAF have had their squadrons put under command by air brigades
or air regiments, the importance of the squadron remained the same as before
­   something   that   was   unheard   of   in   the   Soviet   system.   The   Egyptians   had
their   Air   Brigades   organized   already   before   the   war   in   1967,   and   have
subsequently only changed their designations: this was done several times,
but was essentially everything. Actually all the Egyptian and Syrian units
very much continued following their traditions, even if many ­ especially in
the EAF ­ were re­named, or split into two units, re­equipped with different
aircraft, while some were disbanded. Even the use of unit insignia was not
discontinued: it was only so that none was applied on aircraft. Within the
SyAAF there was even less of the change, then the Air Brigade structure was
not introduced until after the war in 1973, even if the number of units was
doubled between 1967 and 1973. 

Other Arab air arms were not to take part in the War of Attrition, even if
an   Algerian   detachment   was   active   with   the   EAF   until   1968,   and   from   1970
again (albeit it was stationed in Libya during its second stint). 

Above  and   bellow:  immediately   after  the   Six  Day   War  the   Egyptians  started
camouflaging   their   MiGs   ­   a   late   measure,   proposed   several   times   already
before the catastrophe of the 5 June 1967. In emergency, and lacking other
suitable colours, the Egyptians used a stock from a car factory at Hulwan!
This   early   camouflage   pattern   was   later   to   become   known   ­   albeit   in   a
modified   form   ­   as   "Nile   Valley".   It   consisted   of   Sand,   Black,   and   Light
Grey   colours.   Serials   were   still   applied,   albeit   not   as   prominently   as
before,   and   unit   insignia   completely   disappeared:   after   all,   innitially
after   the   Six   Day   War   all   the   surviving   aircraft   and   pilots   were
concentrated within two "Big Squadrons", and only slowly through 1968 were
the old units re­established. (all artworks by Tom Cooper unless otherwise
stated)

New Friends for the IDF/AF

The  IDF/AF   has  suffered   some  pretty   painful  losses   in  aircraft   and  pilots
during the Six Day War, and was then hit severely by the French embargo on
arms   deliveries,   introduced   because   the   French   President   de   Gaulle   felt
personally insulted by the Israelis initiating the war despite his warnings
not to do so. While they were later able to recover or clandestinely receive
some Israeli sources deny this, stressing that only between 40 and 80 were
found. Whatever the truth, the fact is that at least a dozen were later sent
to the USA, around two dozens fired in testing in Israel, while some were
finally   pressed   into   service   with   the   IDF/AF.   Namely,   the   "indigenous"
Israeli Shafrir Mk.1 air­to­air missile proved a failure, and after the Six
Day War the IDF/AF found itself without any useful weapon of this type: the
Shafrir Mk.2 was still in development, while the US­built AIM­9 Sidewinder
was   not   yet   available.   Consequently,   the   Israelis   have   armed   a   number   of
their Mirage IIICJs with the R­3S, and ­ according to USAF records ­ started
using the weapon in combat (conflicting Israeli reports indicate that some
kills were scored by the weapons, but others say that while deployed, they
were eventually never used in combat). 

Clearly,   having   all   of   these   assets   at   hand   was   making   the   Israelis
exceptionally interesting for the USA. The situation was only to improve ­
from   the   Israeli   standpoint   ­   in   the   following   years,   when   the   IDF/AF
started   encountering   Soviet­built   systems   in   Arab   arsenal   that   were   far
superior   to   anything   the   USA   have   encountered   in   Vietnam.   Eventually,   the
direct   US   involvement   on   the   Israeli   side,   and   the   corresponding
intensification   of   the   Soviet   involvement   on   the   Arab   side,   were   to   have
some   quite   unpredictable   repercussions   ­   not   only   on   the   political   arena,
but even more so in the arena of air warfare. 

Basic Principles

Interestingly,   despite   their   ferocity,   the   air   combats   during   the   War   of
Attrition have not influenced the development of new weapons in the way this
was the case with the air warfare during the subsequent war in 1973. This
even if most of the clashes between the Israelis and Egyptians have not only
confirmed   classic   theories   about   the   methods   of   fighting   for   air
superiority, but have also seen the introduction of many new weapons. All of
these weapons ­ with exception of electronic countermeasures ­ however, were
already   existing   and   developed   before   the   outbreak   of   the   Attrition   War.
Besides,   neither   side   was   actually   fighting   for   some   kind   of   a   clear   air
superiority   in   strategic   sense:   the   Israelis   could   not   establish   air
superiority over Egypt, for example, without starting an all­out war, while
the Egyptians could not establish air superiority even over Sinai, because
they lacked corresponding weapons system and personnel needed to make them
capable of this task. Instead, both sides were doing their best to simply
cause losses to the other side. 

Consequently, there was no frontal collision between the EAF and the IDF/AF,
but rather a series of piecemeal campaigns, limited in scope and intention,
all the time followed by periods of relative peace, used for re­assessments
of   the   situation,   acquisition   of   new   equipment   (if   available),   additional
training   and   planning   of   new   operations.   The   air­to­air   battles   were
characterized   by   high   tempo   and   swift   manoeuvres,   in   which   each   side
attempted   to   inflict   as   much   damage   to   the   other   as   possible   within   the
shortest period of time and at lowest possible cost. Neither side possessed
the distinct initiative, even if ­ due to distinctive advantages in training
and   technology   ­   the   IDF/AF   was   usually   able   to   operate   according   to   own
ideas, and thus inflict heavy losses upon the Arabs. The Israeli operations
were characterized by: 

­   Operations   in   reinforced   strike   and   demonstrative   groups,   consisting   of


aircraft flown by hand­picked highly experienced pilots;

­ Extensive use of deception manoeuvring; 

­ Operations in demonstration groups, flyng at different places, different
courses,   and   against   different   targets   than   the   main   strike   group,   that
usually   waited   below   the   radar   horizon   or   behind   terrain   obstacles   that
disturbed   the   radar   picture,   with   the   task   of   luring   the   opponent   in   the
front of the stike group; 

­   Gradual   introduction   of   several   types   of   improved   air­to­air   missiles,


starting with AIM­9D Sidewinder (the liquid­cooled version developed by the
USN), and then Shafrir Mk.2, which caused an increase in engagement ranges,
but also ­ due to limited front­aspect capability of these two weapons, and
their good engagement envelope from the rear aspect ­ further shortened the
duration of engagements; 

­ The deployment of the AIM­7E and then AIM­7E­2 "all­aspect" semi­active­
radar­homing, medium range air­to­air missiles on IDF/AF F­4 Phantoms had a
very   small   impact   on   the   overall   flow   of   air­to­air   battles:   these   were
especially not used at ranges "beyond the visual range" (BVR). In fact, the
effective range from which they could have been used at the time was on the
brink   of   the   visual   range   ­   i.e.   10­12km   ­   and   well­known   for   their
unreliability,  so   that  the   pilots  tended   to  use   them  from   shorter  ranges,
and then mainly to break cohesion of Arab formations and put Arab pilots on
defensive   early   during   the   engagement.   But,   in   general,   Israeli   Phantom­
pilots   were   doing   their   best   to   avoid   engagements   with   small   (i.e.
problematic   to   sight)   and   more   nimble   MiGs,   while   they   considered   the
Sparrow   a   very   poor   weapon   as   well.   Eventually,   there   was   only   a   single
engagement   fought   over   "BVR"   distance   during   this   conflict,   and   that   was
set­up especially on US pressure. 

Due to these facts alone, the Israelis tended to have the advantage of being
in the offensive during most of the air­to­air engagements. Strategically,
however, they were not interested in a wider conflict, and consequently it
can be said that the Egyptians had the advantage of being in the offensive
for most of 1968 and 1969. Clearly, the Israeli extensive testing of MiG­17s
and   MiG­21s   helped   them   obtain   intimate   knowledge   about   the   weaknesses   of
their   opposition's   armament,   and   their   best   pilots   developed   highly
effective   tactics   for   flying   Mirage   IIICJ   in   dogfights   against   ­
theoretically ­ more nimble MiGs. This tactics was mainly dependent on the
fact that original R­3S missiles as supplied to the Arabs used were not only
technically unreliable, but also had a very narrow engagement envelope and a
poor  tracking   capability,  as   well  as   that  the   Arab  MiG­21­pilots   were  not
very   skilled   in   flying   their   aircraft   at   critically   low   speeds.   The   MiG­
21PFs   and   MiG­21PFMs   that   were   the   mainstay   of   the   EAF   at   the   time   also
lacked   the   guns.   Given   that   the   minimal   engagement   range   of   the   R­3S   was
800m, and that it was essentially useless at levels bellow 500m, while most
of the engagements of the Attrition War were fought at low levels and ranges
around   400­700   meters,   the   MiGs   were   actually   unarmed.   Their   pilots
therefore had to look for executing slash attacks from the rear hemisphere
against   non­manoeuvring   Israeli   fighters,   and   learn   doing   so   from   ranges
between 800 and 1.500m. 

The Israelis, on the other side, would in air combat use the large delta­
wings of their Mirages as air breakes to execute very tight turns and point
their aircraft at the opponent, followed by the use of the afterburner to
accelerate back into the fight. Such turns were excellent measure against R­
3S,   but   would   usually   also   enable   the   Mirage   to   position   behind   the   MiG.
Besides,   the   theoretically   dangerous   use   of   the   afterburner   was   not   that
much of a problem in a situation where enemy infra­red homing missiles were
usually useless. The situation could thus only change by the widespread use
of the guns on MiGs, and due to more reliable and effective missiles ­ but
also   by   much   training   of   Arab   pilots,   which   were   not   only   flying   more   by
their own instincts than according to any official tactical methods but also
regularly firing their missiles too early (before all the firing parameters
were established). It is pretty certain that the poor sighting over the long
nose   of   the   MiG­21   was   one   of   decisive   points   for   the   later   factor.
Certainly,   in   a   conflict   against   pilots   that   were   so   expertly   trained   in
aerial gunnery ­ like Israelis were ­ the EAF had to suffer extensive losses
before   learning   the   lesson,   and   before   being   equipped   with   better­armed
aircraft. 

The   air­to­air   weaponry   used   during   the   War   of   Attrition   was   initially
relatively simple: guns (which most of Arab MiG­21s were lacking) were used
­ usually with deadly results ­ from distances of 50 to 100 meters; air­to­
air missiles at distances from 700 to 3.000 meters. The surviving MiG­21F­
13s  in  EAF  and  SyAAF  were  armed  with  the  NR­30,  30mm  cannon,  which  was  a
powerful weapon, and were bellowed by pilots for this fact, as well as their
agility. The MiG­21PF, MiG­21PFMs and similar sub­variants carried no such
weapon and it would take some time until at least some were equipped with
the   gun­pod   containing   a   two­barrel   GSh­23   cannon,   calibre   23mm.   From   the
spring of 1970 also the much improved MiG­21MF was delivered to Egypt. This
was not only equally fast like Phantom and Mirage at low levels, but also
armed   with   built­in   GSh­23   gun,   and   had   also   an   additional   hardpoint   per
each   wing,   enabling   the   theoretical   capability   to   carry   four   air­to­air
missiles. At the time the R­3S was the main armament of the aircraft, this
was an important improvement, then it was often enough the case that both R­
3S used by pilots of MiG­21PF/PFMs either malfunctioned or were fired out of
the   envelope:   a   MiG­21MF­pilot   could   not   attempt   a   second   attack   with
remaining   two   missiles,   or   fire   all   four   in   quick   succession,   thus
increasing the probability of a hit. Nevertheless, this capability was not
very   often   used,   except   by   aircraft   assigned   for   point   defence:   namely,
during the Attrition War combat endurance was less important than the range,
then especially the Egyptian MiGs were all too often confronted by Israeli
fighter­bombers   that   were   underway   at   a   very   high   speed,   and   attempting
their best to avoid interception. Consequently, the speed and the range were
more   important   than   the   number   of   reasons,   and   for   this   reason   the
additional   underwing   pylons   were   more   frequently   used   for   carriage   of
additional fuel tanks. 

The Israeli problems with early air­to­air missiles were already described
to   some   degree   above.   From   1969,   however,   they   started   getting   AIM­9D
Sidewinders   from   the   USA.   These   missiles   were   a   considerable   improvement
compared to either the earlier AIM­9B (which Israel has never got), or its
Soviet­copy,,   the   R­3S,   then   they   were   equipped   with   cooled   seeker   heads,
with   expanded   envelope   and   tracking   capability.   Almost   simultaneously   with
first   deliveries   of   the   AIM­9D   the   Israelis   had   finally   brought   also   the
Shafrir Mk.2 to a standard that permitted its deployment. The availability
of the AIM­9D almost killed the Shafrir project, but eventually the decision
was   brought   to   start   the   production   of   the   second   version   and   ­   although
this was not to prove as sophisticated in specific aspects as the US­weapon
­ the Shafrir was to prove more reliable and eventually score not only more
kills during the Attrition War, but also become improved into the ultimate
air­to­air weapon of the subsequent Yom Kippour/Teshreen War, in 1973. 

With the arrival of the first F­4E Phantoms, in September 1969, the IDF/AF
was   also   equipped   with   the   AIM­7E   Sparrow,   a   semi­active   radar­homing
weapon.   Although   the   Sparrow   was   offering   the   advantage   of   a   considerably
expanded  range   (theoretically,  it   could  be   fired  from   distances  as   far  as
15­20km   from   the   targets),   their   pilots   were   not   especially   enthusiastic
about it, finding this weapon complicated to use in manoeuvring battles and
at low levels, and insufficiently reliable. Eventually, only very few kills
were to be scored during the whole Attrition War, at least two of which were
staged   after   heavy   US­pressure.   Sparrow   eventually   became   the   weapon   of
choice   for   Israeli   Phantom­pilots   that   were   underway   on   attack   missions,
then two could always be carried in the rear bays on the underside of the
aircraft, not interfering with the carriage of bombs, ECM­pods, or external
fuel tanks: consequently, even if the F­4 was carrying a maximal bomb­load,
it   could   always   take   also   two   Sparrows   for   self­defence.   Disappointed,
however, the Israelis were to overcome even this problem, however, then they
subsequently   developed   indigenous   pylons   for   Sidewinder   that   could   be
mounted into Sparrow­bays of their Phantoms! These were to enter service by
1973 at least. 

In the Begin...

The War of Attrition actually began only days after the end of the Six Day
War:   on   1   July   1967   Egyptian   commandos   attacked   an   Israeli   armoured
formation near Ras al­Ushsh. Even if already active, the UARAF was not yet
fully   ready   to   hit   back:   most   of   Egyptian   airfields   were   repaired
sufficiently to permit normal operations already before the ceasefire on 10
June, but the UARAF still needed some time to get new aircraft, reorganize
battered units, and put together all the available pilots and personnel. 

Through late June and early July 1967 the USSR was swift to supply a large
number of new MiG­21s, Su­7s, and MiG­17s to Egypt: actually, the Egyptians
preferred   MiG­21s   and   MiG­17s   to   anything   else,   while   also   asking   Soviets
for more powerful aircraft that could increase their offensive capability.
Moscow   refused   to   deliver   anything   similar   (like   Yak­25s),   instead
preferring   to   develop   and   train   the   EAF   in   a   purely   defensive   air   arm,
capable   only   of   defending   the   air   space   over   the   Nile   Delta,   but   was
supplying   Su­7s   as   well   ­   to   offer   some   kind   of   high­speed   offensive
capability. This lead to a sort of contradiction, as Egyptians tried to use
their air power in a manner similar to that of the Israelis, while lacking
the technology, firepower, and experience. Under such circumstances, the EAF
was clearly on the best way to suffer extensive losses. 

On 4 July 1967, the EAF flew the first offensive operation of this period,
striking several targets in Sinai, but losing one MiG­17 in the process. A
MiG­21 equipped for reconnaissance was sent over Israeli positions near el­
Qantara on 8 July, but also shot down by air defences. Nevertheless, Cairo
remained   stubborn   and   the   EAF   was   ordered   to   dispatch   two   Su­7s   equipped
with recce cameras into a new mission on the next morning. The Sukhois did
several   turns   over   the   Sinai   without   facing   any   opposition,   and   in   the
afternoon the mission was repeated by two other Su­7s. This time, however,
the Israelis waited for them, and one fighter was shot down by Mirages. 

The EAF reacted by placing all its flying units on alert, and then starting
a   series   of   strikes   against   different   Israeli   positions.   The   situation
culminated   between   the   11   and   15   July,   when   the   IDF/AF   deployed   two
squadrons   of   Mirage   IIICJs   to   stop   Egyptian   attacks.   In   numerous   air
combats, the Israelis downed a total of two Su­7s, one MiG­17, and several
MiG­21s. The Egyptians claimed to have shot down up to 15 enemies, but in
fact their MiG­21s downed one Mirage the pilot of which ejected safely. 

Subsequently, the Soviets forced the Egyptians to stand down, and continue
the reorganization of their armed forces. But, in mid­October 1967, the EAF
was back in the air and on offensive again, and new strikes were flown. The
IDF/AF used the short break to develop two forward bases ­ at Bir Jifjafa,
now called Refidim, and Ras Nisrani, now called Ophir. Each airfield had at
lest four Mirages and sometimes also other aircraft on temporary deployment,
with   their   crews   on   constant   alert   in   order   to   be   able   to   react   to   any
Egyptian attack. In their first operation out of Refidim, on 12 October, for
example, Israeli Mirages downed four Egyptian MiG­19s. On 21 October 1967,
however,   it   was   the   Egyptian   Navy   which   hit   back,   when   its   fast   missile
crafts sunk the Israeli destroyer Eilat with three SS­N­2 Styx surface­to­
surface missiles. This was a turning point in the development of the naval
warfare, then for the first time anti­ship missiles have proven their worth
and capability of disabling major warships. Until that time this was only a
theory, and although some smaller navies were already well­armed with fast
missile   crafts   now   all   the   larger   navies   around   the   world   started   to   arm
their major ships with anti­ship missiles as well. 

Through   1969   and   1970   modified   versions   of   the   Nile   Valley   camouflage
pattern   were   developed,   including   this   one.   Due   to   the   heavy   wear   on
aircraft  it  is  not  sure  if  the  main  colour  in  this  case  was  indeed  Olive
Green:   possibly,   it   was   also   Black,   but   it   faded   over   the   time.   Note   the
gun­pod   for   the   GSh­23   cannon   carried   under   the   centreline:   the   Egyptians
learned their lesson of lacking gun armament on the MiG­21PF and MiG­21PFM
and   were   swift   to   obtain   a   number   of   these   pods.   It   remains   unclear,
however, if any were used during the Attrition War. 

The Siege of Israel

By late 1967 and early 1968 the situation on the Suez quietened down, but
now the Palestinian fighters became active with a series of attacks against
Israeli troops, staged out of Jordan. Because of this, on 21 March 1968, the
IDF   initiated   the   operation   "Inferno"   ­   a   joint­forces   strike   against
Palestinian bases around the city of Karameh, inside Jordan. The operation
was  initiated   by  helicopters   deploying  paras   around  the   city,  and   then  an
armoured force attacking the bases. But, disturbed by the bad weather, the
helicopters were late, and in the following battle the coordination of the
Israeli forces broke down, causing heavy losses to the IDF. 

On   8   September   1968,   the   Egyptian   Army   opened   artillery   fire   against   all
Israeli positions along the Suez, killing ten Israelis and injuring 18. The
Israelis attempted to respond, bombarding Suez and Ismailia. Two days later,
EAF MiG­17s hit two Israeli posts in Sinai, losing one plane to Mirages, and
on   31   October   another   Egyptian   artillery   strike   killed   14   Israelis.   This
time, the IDF reacted with a commando attack, and in the following night the
helicopters of the 123rd Sqn were used to deploy commandos at two Egyptian
dams   on   Nile,   the   transformator   station   at   Naj   Hammadja,   and   the   Qeena
Bridge.  All   four  targets   were  heavily   damaged,  and   the  operation   caused  a
shock in Egypt, as it was clear now, that the Israelis can strike all around
the country. The EAF responded by another MiG­17­strike, on 3 November, and
this time Israeli interceptors were less successful, as during the ensuing
combats with escorting MiG­21s no Egyptians were shot down, but one Mirage
damaged. 

After   replacing   the   old   S­58   helicopters   of   the   124th   Sqn.   by   newer   Bell
205s,   on   1   December   1968   the   IDF/AF   launched   another   commando   operation,
"Iron",   against   four   bridges   near   Amman.   This   was   a   highly   successful
enterprise, in which all targets were destroyed without causing any losses
to Jordanian or Palestinian civilian population. Two days later it was turn
on PLO­bases in Jordan to be attacked, and while the strike flown by four
SMB.2s was successful, one of the Israeli fighters was subsequently damaged
during a brief air combat with RJAF Hunters. 

After two new air combats ­ including one with Egyptians, on 12 December, in
which a MiG­17 was shot down; and one with Syrians, on 24 December, in which
two  MiG­21s   were  destroyed   ­  the   next  Israeli   heliborne  commando   raid  was
undertaken on 28 December against the Beirut International Airport (IAP), by
a   force   flown   in   Super   Frelons   and   Bell   205s   and   in   attempt   to   punish
Lebanon for tolerating concentrations of Palestinian fighters on its soil.
Within   minutes,   the   Israelis   blocked   the   roads   to   the   airfield,   and   then
destroyed   13   airliners   of   the   Lebanese   Middle   East   Airline   before   pulling
out without any losses. The attack on Beirut IAP was a considerable shock
for the Arabs, then it was not only executed in quite a nonchalant manner
(the IDF commander of the raiding party walked into a restaurant of the main
building and ordered a coffee), but also once again proved how far were the
Israelis   ready   to   go   in   retaliation   for   Arab   terrorist   attacks.   It   was,
however, not to have any deterrent effects. 

Meanwhile,   by   the   late   1968,   the   EAF   was   completely   reorganized   into   two
separate arms. The EAF was now to control foremost the strike assets, like
Su­7s, MiG­17s, and MiG­21s, while the air defence of the Egyptian air space
was taken over by the EAF/Air Defence Command, which controlled two brigades
of   manned   interceptors   (MiG­21s)   and   several   units   equipped   with   SAMs   and
radars. The EAF/ADC was now to ease the burden of the EAF, and concentrate
on fighting for air superiority over the Suez Channel, along which meanwhile
no   less   but   150.000   Egyptian   soldiers   were   deployed,   while   the   EAF   (now
counting something like 50 MiG­21s, 80 MiG­19s, 120 MiG­17, 40 Su­7s, 40 Il­
28s   and   a   dozen   or   so   Tu­16s)   was   to   hit   the   Israelis   on   the   Sinai.   The
Syrian Air Force was also back on the line, boasting a total of around 60
MiG­21s, 70 MiG­17s and 20 Su­7s by January 1969. In both air forces, newer
MiG­21PFs   have   partially   replaced   the   older   MiG­21F­13s   in   interceptor
units,  and   Su­7BMKs  have   taken  the   role  of   primary  strikers   from  MiG­17s.
Nevertheless,   the   Egyptians   have   upgraded   their   MiG­17s   by   adding   new
hardpoints   and   making   them   capable   of   carrying   more   weapons.   While   still
heavily dependant of the Soviet help and instructions, both the EAF and the
SyAAF   have   re­started   their   cooperation,   as   well   as   cooperation   with
numerous other air forces, foremost the Iraqi, Pakistani, Indian, Saudi and
some others. 

The Israelis, on their side, have meanwhile built a series of fortifications
along   the   Suez,   which   became   known   as   the   "Bar­Lev   Line".   This   Line   was
actually established foremost to make any Egyptian attempt to swiftly cross
the   Canal   and   break   deeper   into   Sinai   before   the   Israeli   Army   could   be
mobilized, but not to completely prevent or stop any such efforts. However,
with   the   time,   misreporting   about   the   Bar­Lev   Line   lead   to   the   Israeli
public   developing   a   feeling   about   these   fortifications   being   similar   to
those   established   in   the   well­known   French   "Maginot"   Line.   In   connection
with  exaggerated   claims  about   the  superiority   of  the   IDF  in   comparison  of
the  Arab   militaries,  the   Israeli  public   believed  the   "Bar­Lev  Line"   to  be
"impenetrable":   this   was   later   to   have   severe   repercussions   for   the
government in Jerusalem during and after the war in 1973. 

During   February   1969,   the   IDF/AF   bombed   several   targets   inside   Syria,   and
when Syrian interceptors reacted new air combats developed in which two MiG­
17s and two MiG­21s were shot down. Actually, at the time the Israeli Air
Force was still in a pretty bad shape, as the acquisition of new aircraft
was initially slow. But, with US help, this was now rapidly to change. As
first, Washington finally started to deliver 48 A­4E Skyhawks, and then also
agreed to deliver 44 F­4E Phantoms. Very soon and again with the US help,
the cooperation with France was re­established in a clandestine operation,
which saw delivery of 50 "embargoed" Mirage 5Js in crates to Israel with the
help of US C­5 Galaxy transports. These aircraft were not the same 50 Mirage
5J   built   for   Israel:   these   were   taken   by   the   French   Air   Force.   Instead,
between   1969   and   1971   Dassault   has   built   a   new   series:   the   aircraft   were
paid for by the USA and then shipped to IAI, which put them together between
late   1969   and   1973,   explaining   in   the   public   that   it   was   beginning
production of an "indigenous" Israeli fighter, originally called Mirage Mod,
but  later   Nesher.  Officially,   this  was   "possible"  due   to  cooperation   of  a
Swiss engineer who should have "revealed" the secrets of Mirage 5 to Israel
(and   was   even   sentenced   to   several   years   of   prison   for   doing   this!).
However,   the   company   for   which   he   was   working   was   involved   only   in   the
production of Atar engines, and he could in no way have supplied the entire
technical   documentation   need   for   the   Israelis   to   build   a   completely   new
fighter. 
Actually,   the   whole   operation   had   to   be   organized   in   such   manner   because
French were now officially "Arab­friends", and ­ after the coup against the
Emperor   Idriz   of   Libya,   which   brought   Col.   Qaddafi   to   power   ­   supplying
Mirage III and 5 fighters also to Libya (where these were actually flown by
Egyptian   pilots)!   The   clandestine   US­French­Israeli   connection   was   finally
so   far   developed,   that   it   lead   to   a   project   in   which   Mirage   5   was   to   be
mated with a US­supplied J­79 engines by the IAI, in a project lead by US
designer   ­   Gene   Salvay.   Thus   the   "Kfir"   came   into   being,   which,   however,
entered production only after the war in 1973. Nevertheless, in the meantime
the   IAI   was   able   to   ­   again   with   considerable   US   support   ­   re­engine   its
fleet   of   surviving   Super   Mystére   B.2s   with   the   J52   engine   from   the   A­4
Skyhawk.   This   necessitated   a   longer   fuselage,   but   offered   a   considerable
advantage,   then   the   aircraft   could   now   carry   a   heavier   payload   as   well.
Consequently, they were equipped with additional hardpoints too. 

From   1968   the   IDF/AF   received   the   first   batch   of   48   A­4E   Skyhawks.   These
light fighters could nevertheless carry large amounts of weapons and were to
prove   their   worth   beyond   any   doubt,   eventually   leading   to   IDF/AF   ordering
additional examples of the A­4N, a version specifically developed according
to the needs of the IDF/AF. (artwork by Mario Golenko)

The Wild West

On 8 March 1969 the Egyptians launched a new offensive over the Suez, acting
entirely   with   the   air   force   and   artillery.   A   large   EAF   formation   hit   a
number of Israeli command posts, depots and artillery positions in Sinai. An
escorting section of four MiG­21s, led by Maj. Shamala, was directed against
four   intercepting   Mirages,   led   by   Giora   Yoeli   and   Michael   Tzuk,   underway
along the canal. The EAF leader jettisoned his drop tank but also both R­3S
missiles   his   aircraft   carried   in   a   mistake,   so   he   had   to   hand   over   the
interception to the rear pair of MiGs. This delay enabled the Israelis to
spot the MiGs and attack. Eventually, the rear pair of MiGs was then able to
sandwich   the   Israelis,   hitting   one   with   an   R­3S   missile.   Eventually,
however, the lead Israeli pair won overhand over the lead pair of MiGs: as
Tzuk entered scissors against Lt. Abd el­Baki, flying the MiG­21 Number 2,
Yoeli   positioned   behind   him,   and   when   the   Egyptian   lost   energy   while
manoeuvring with Tzuk he was shot down by Yoeli. Lt. el­Baki ejected and was
taken PoW. 

Several hours later, the Egyptian artillery opened a massive barrage against
the   Bar­Lev   Line,   and   President   Nasser   declared   on   radio,   that   Egypt   is
starting the "War of Attrition". The massive Egyptian onslaught forced the
IDF/AF   to   change   its   overall   strategy.   Bearing   in   mind   that   the   EAF   was
flying   over   the   Sinai   every   day,   and   that   Egyptian   pilots   were   obviously
eager to engage, the Israeli interceptors were not to wait any more for the
enemy, but were to be used offensively, foremost by luring the enemy into
pre­selected areas where these could then be cut off from eventual support
and shot down. 

Additional clashes occurred through March, April, and then in May, the EAF
losing a MiG­21 or two each time the Israelis set up a new trap for almost
no gains in exchange. Several air battles from this period are interesting,
then   meanwhile   accounts   from   both   sides   are   now   available,   showing   that
during   some   of   the   fierce   clash   both   sides   were   apparently   taken   by
surprise.   On   14   April,   for   example,   a   pair   of   Mirage   IIICJs   from   119
Squadron,   flown   by   Reuven   Rosen   and   Menachen   Eyal,   was   scrambled   from
Refidim AB to intercept a formation of Su­7s on reconnaissance mission over
Sinai. The Sukhois were escorted by four MiGs, the second pair of which was
flown by Capt. Aziz Mikhail and Ismail Imam. The Israeli leader did a series
of   mistakes,   starting   with   forgetting   to   jettison   his   drop   tank:
consequently, he was at a distadvantage after only a couple of turns, and
had   a   MiG   at   his   6   o'clock.   Entering   scissors   against   the   MiG,   however,
Rosen managed to gain advantage despite his problems: the MiG overshoot and
then extended in an attempt to regain speed, swiftly distancing to more than
1.200m. Rosen then fired a Sidewinder and shot the MiG down. Meanwhile Eyal
engaged another MiG and damaged it with a Sidewinder, forcing the Egyptian
to   disengage.   Meanwhile,   Mikhail   was   on   Eyal's   tail,   but   the   Israeli
successfully   disengaged.   Rosen   failed   to   do   so   and   this   was   his   second
mistake in that engagement: in an attempt to hit another MiG, he failed to
see   Mikhail   behind   his   Mirage,   and   got   hit   by   a   R­3S.   While   the   Egyptian
claimed a kill, Rosen managed a successful emergency landing at Refidim. 

The number of air battles in which the Israelis did such mistakes, and the
Egyptians   did   as   well,   however,   remained   relatively   low,   and   most   were
pretty   one­sided.   On   21   May,   for   example,   the   Israelis   almost   completely
destroyed two sections of four Egyptian MiG­21s each, downing four of them
in   air   combats   and   one   by   MIM­23A   Hawk   SAMs.   The   Egyptians   claimed   one
Mirage as shot down, and explained the pilot ejected only to drawn in the
Suez Canal. 

From   June   1969,   the   IDF   intensified   its   operations,   starting   with   a
demonstration flight of four Mirages over Cairo, on 17th of the month. Three
days   later   the   Operation   "Rimonim"   was   initiated,   with   the   objective   of
luring EAF interceptors into an area south of the Suez City, which was not
well  covered  by  the  Egyptian  radar  net.  In  a  series  of  battles  here  by  7
July, a total of nine MiG­21s and one MiG­17 were shot down, in exchange for
a single Mirage IIICJ, lost on 26 June. In another ­ completely unrelated ­
air combat, caused by the activity of Israeli recce aircraft over Syria, on
8 July 1969, seven Syrian MiG­21s were shot down as well. 

Nevertheless,   Israeli   pilots   were   not   to   get   any   rest.   After   an   Egyptian
commando   attack   against   IDF   installations   in   Sinai,   on   18   July   1969,   the
IDF/AF was chosen to answer and three days later the Operation "Boxer" was
launched: in 171 combat sorties, the Israelis dropped something like 200ts
of bombs on Egyptian SAM­sites and artillery positions. The EAF reacted only
in the afternoon of 20 July with a strike against Israeli SAM­sites, but the
strike package was intercepted while over the target and four aircraft were
shot down by Mirages, in exchange for two Israeli fighters shot down by MiG­
21s. Because of this, the IDF/AF intensified the operation Boxer for a full
week, during which a total of over 700 combat sorties was flown. The result
was a complete break­down of the EAF/ADF's net of SAM­sites and radars along
the  Suez,   massive  destruction   of  the   artillery  positions,   and  the   loss  of
eight MiGs. "Boxer" was the first operation in which the IDF/AF flew pre­
planned   and   well   coordinated   strikes   against   integrated   air   defences
including SAM­sites, and it proved highly successful, especially as the SA­
2bs could not target the low­flying Israeli aircraft. 

Still, due to swift Soviet deliveries of new weapons, the EAF/ADF was fast
to   recover,   and   the   IDF/AF   was   ­   now   in   the   role   of   Israeli   "flying
artillery"   ­   compelled   to   start   another   massive   operation,   "Drizzle",
initiated in the night from 9 to 10 September. This started with commando
attacks against Egyptian missile crafts, and a landing of a commando­party,
equipped with captured T­55 tanks and BTR­50 APCs near the port of Ras el­
Sadat.   The   raiders   drove   between   the   SAM­sites,   destroying   one   after   the
other, and causing havoc in Egyptian organization. On the following morning
the IDF/AF hit additional targets, causing ever more destruction and losses,
even if losing one SMB.2 in the process, together with the pilot. 

Within six weeks of launching "Boxer", the Israelis flew over 1.000 combat
sorties,   destroyed   two   dozens   of   SAM­sites,   and   shot   down   21   Egyptian
aircraft,   in   exchange   for   three   own   fighters.   Nevertheless,   already   on   11
September,   the   EAF   hit   back,   deploying   over   100   fighter­bombers   against
Israeli SAM­sites. Near el­Qantara four Mirages tried to cut off a formation
of  eight   MiG­17s,  several   Su­7s,  and   eight  MiG­21s,   causing  an   air  battle
that   extended   over   the   Egyptian   airspace,   ending   almost   directly   over   the
Fayid   AB.   While   five   MiG­21s   were   shot   down   by   the   Israelis,   Maj.   Fawzi
Salama shot down the IDF/AF leading "ace" of the time, Giora Rom. Shortly
later, in another engagement Lt. Ghema shot down Capt. Jacob Roun when this
attempted   to   catch   one   of   the   MiGs   that   was   in   the   landing   pattern.   The
Egyptians also claimed that Capt. Mikhail shot down a Mirage IIICJ flown by
pilot named Weintraub, but this kill was not confirmed, while the Israelis
claimed two additional kills, for a total of seven on this day (including
four MiG­21s, two Su­7s and one MiG­17). 

Subsequently the Egyptians even increased the pace of their operations, and
on   28   October   their   Mi­8s   deployed   a   commando­party   near   an   enemy   base
almost   100km   east   of   el­Qantara,   causing   surprise   and   losses   to   the
Israelis.   Such   operations   were   a   reason   of   grave   concerns   on   the   Israeli
side, which tried to downplay the Egyptian successes, explaining that these
are   not   capable   of   causing   any   damage,   while   superimposing   feats   of   the
IDF/AF's aces. The fact was, that the EAF and the EAF/ADF suffered extensive
losses in the summer of 1969, and that they were not especially successful
against the Israelis in the air, but also that the EAF was also hitting back
very hard, causing losses and damage too. 

Therefore, the War of Attrition was continued, and on 6 October 1969, the
IDF/AF was again in action, deploying 200 fighters to attack Egyptian SAM­
sites along the Suez. During these operations, Israeli aircraft ­ foremost
A­4   Skyhawks   ­   were   carrying   ECM­pods   for   the   first   time,   and   were
apparently   also   supported   by   a   Vautour   or   two,   equipped   for   supporting
strike   packages   with   electronic   countermeasures,   but   also   monitoring   the
enemy emissions. Due to this, even if the Egyptians had more SAM­sites, and
were now firing many more SAMs, only one out of at least a hundred of SA­2s
exploded   near   one   A­4,   causing   some   damage.   When   the   EAF   tried   to   strike
back, two Su­7s were shot down, and the strike package was forced to abort. 

Even if they would not admit this in public, by the time the Egyptians were
now   definitely   on   the   end   of   their   capability   to   continue   the   war   at   the
same pace. Between July 1967 and November 1969, the EAF and the EAF/ADF have
suffered a loss of 51 combat aircraft, of which 34 in air combats, nine to
AAA, and eight to Israeli MIM­23 Hawk SAMs. The Egyptians have also lost at
least 30 SAM­sites and over 1.500 soldiers. 

Mirage IIICJ remained the mainstay of the Israeli fighter fleet for most of
the Attrition War, and was the main interceptor even after the arrival of
the   first   Phantoms.   The   type   ­   nick­named   "Shahak"   in   IDF/AF   service   ­
chalked   an   impressive   score   of   over   100   air­to­air   victories   during   this
conflict.   The   example   shown   here   in   the   colours   of   the   101   Squadron,   was
flown by Eitan Ben­Eliyahu when he claimed his first kill, on 8 July 1969.

Israeli Hammers

The situation was now to change, as the IDF/AF was short or introducing a
new weapon in the War of Attrition: the powerful, fast, and lethal McDonnell
Douglas F­4E Phantom II. The Phantom was the aircraft which was to fascinate
not   only   the   Israelis,   but   also   their   enemies   to   a   degree   where   in   the
future   these   were   prone   to   declare   any   Israeli   aircraft   they   saw   for   a
"Phantom",   in   the   manner   similar   to   the   years   before,   where   almost   each
downed   IDF   fighter   was   either   a   "Mystére"   or   "Mirage"   ­   regardless   its
actual type! 

The arrival of the F­4E in Israel was foremost important because the type
was so powerful that it could fly over 300km deep into Egypt, carrying more
bombs than almost a squadron of SMB.2s, at a speed of Mirage III, albeit at
a much more comfort (especially in the low­level ride) and security for the
crew,   and   still   carrying   missiles   for   self­defence.   The   F­4E   was   also   to
change  the   behaviour  of   Israeli  pilots   in  air   combats:  the   early  Phantoms
they have got were still un­slated, and thus slightly less manoeuvrable than
the   MiG­21s   or   Mirages,   albeit,   they   were   much   better   armed.   Therefore,
initially after their introduction, the IDF/AF was apparently reluctant to
use them for air combats, and rather tended to deploy them in demonstration
groups which would initiate any operation by either attacking some target on
the ground, or dragging enemy interceptors towards places where smaller and
more   agile   Mirages   waited   in   ambush.   The   Phantom   introduced   also   more
modern, built­in, ECM­systems to the IDF/AF, which were not only showing the
threat to the pilot, warning him to start evasive manoeuvring, like standard
RWRs,   already   introduced   on   Skyhawks     and   upgraded   SMB.2s,   but   also
automatically   jamming   enemy   radars.   In   addition,   the   aircraft   had   an
integrated   navigation   and   attack   suite,   which   was   easing   the   work   of   the
crew. 

Neither the Egyptians nor the Soviets could put anything similar like the F­
4E into the air: the Soviets would not supply them any of their more modern
or powerful fighters (not that they have had many at the time, as the new
generation with MiG­23s and MiG­25s was still in the development phase), and
the Libyan deal for Mirage III/5s was still in its early stages. What Moscow
made available were Su­20s, which at the time were a simple derivative of
the   Su­7B,   albeit   with   wings   which   outside   parts   could   be   swept,   thus
simplifying   operations,   while   increasing   the   payload   and   range.   However,
even the Su­20s would not reach Egypt before 1972. 

Meanwhile,   the   Israeli   Phantoms   flew   their   first   combat   missions   in   the
frame of the Operation "Pirkha", initiated on 22 October 1969, with a strike
of   four   Phantoms   against   two   Egyptian   SAM­sites   near   Abu   Sawayr   AB.   The
power  of   the  new   fighter  was   immediately  demonstrated:   a  pair   of  Phantoms
could drop up to 18 Mk.82 bombs calibre 250kg against a single SAM­site. No
object   could   survive   such   pounding,   especially   not   the   sensitive   radar
stations, non­armoured command vans, and launchers, and the Egyptian losses
were   heavy.   Yet,   the   IDF/AF   was   to   further   increase   the   pressure.   On   4
November, Phantoms were also "shown" to the citizens of Cairo, when four of
them   thundered   low   over   the   Egyptian   capital,   and   on   11   November,   they
downed   their   first   MiG­21,   during   an   air   combat   over   Jebel   Ataka,   after
another ambush was set up south of Suez. From that time on for the next two
months,   the   two   IDF/AF­units   equipped   with   Phantoms   were   targeting   one
Egyptian SAM­site after the other, destroying at least three dozens of them
by   late   December,   including   no   less   but   eight   on   15   December.   As   if   this
would not be enough, on 23 December the Israelis mounted a commando raid,
which  captured   an  Egyptian   P­12  radar   recently  placed   some  200km   south  of
the Suez City. The radar and the support equipment were subsequently loaded
under two CH­53 helicopters, and then flown out to Israel (some say, via a
US aircraft carrier, waiting for the helicopters in the Red Sea). 

One of the two first IDF/AF units to operate the mighty F­4E Phantom II was
the 69/Patishim Squadron. The example here is shown carrying a load of five
M­117   bombs   under   the   centreline,   two   Sidewinders   under   inboard   underwing
pylons, two Sparrows in the rear bays, and a QRC­335 ECM­pod ­ a load more
usually seen during the subsequent Yom Kippour War, but nevertheless clearly
presenting the immense warload the F­4Es could haul, and which made them a
legend of their times. The availability of the F­4 was of immense importance
for   Israel:   although   much   more   expensive   in   acquizition,   they   eventually
enabled the IDF/AF to operate more efficiently, then a single Phantom could
carry   more   bombs   than   four   Mirages   or   eight   SMB.2s.   Thus,   a   formation   of
eight Phantoms could obliterate up to four SAM­sites in a single strike ­ a
job   for   which   the   Israelis   previously   needed   whole   squadrons   of   earlier
French­fighters. This capability enabled the IDF/AF to start its first SEAD­
offensive in the frame of the Operation Blossom, but also fly numerous deep­
penetration strike sorties, hitting targets all over Egypt. 
High Noon

The year 1970 was to begin very bad for the EAF, as the Israelis once again
changed their modus­operandi: highly experienced IDF/AF were now penetrating
deep into Egypt at a very low level, and attacking MiGs directly over their
air   bases,   preferably   while   in   landing   pattern,   but   often   enough   shortly
after   these   were   scrambled   to   intercept   a   demonstration   group   of   Israeli
aircraft. On 4 January, Mirages lured several MiGs into another ambush and
downed   two   of   them.   This   caused   the   EAF   to   become   very   careful,   as   the
IDF/AF   was   now   seemingly   constantly   mounting   such   operations,   while,
actually,   the   Israelis   had   something   else   in   mind:   three   days   later   two
Phantoms thundered in low level over the Suez, but instead of attacking some
SAM­site, they continued straight towards Cairo, and then attacked the EAF
training centre at Bilbeis. The surprise on the Egyptian side was complete:
since   the   Six   Day   War,   the   IDF/AF   flew   no   similar   attacks   so   deep   into
Egypt.   This   was   now   to   change,   however,   as   this   attack   signalized   the
initialization   of   the   Operation   "Blossom",   in   which   the   IDF/AF   was   to   go
offensive   and   establish   a   sort   of   air   superiority   along   the   Suez   Canal.
Three   days   later   several   ammunition   depots   near   Cairo   were   hit.   On   18
January, also the bases near Hulwan, and the Camp Watza were attacked and
severely damaged. Each time, Egyptian interceptors were not able to react,
as the fast and powerful Phantoms were back over Sinai before they could be
scrambled. 

In   February   the   IDF/AF   continued   attacking   EAF/ADF   SAM­sites,   usually


deploying   eight   F­4Es   armed   with   M­117   bombs   to   hit   several   sites
simultaneously, foremost in the areas around Dahshur and Hulwan. During one
of these strikes, on 9 February, the Mirages and MiGs clashed once again,
with   each   side   losing   one   aircraft,   even   if   the   Egyptians   claimed   two
Israelis as shot down: certainly, only the IDF/AF pilot Avinoam Keldes was
captured. Over the following weeks and months the Israelis gradually moved
their targets further south along the Red Sea coast, generating a series of
deadly duels against the SAMs. 

The Operation "Blossom" was obviously too successful: it clearly illustrated
the whole Egyptian military and civilian population, that the IDF/AF could
strike all over Egypt and cause tremendous ­ sometimes shocking ­ damage and
losses, without even being disturbed. The war was thus brought directly to
Egypt, and the leadership in Cairo compelled to request even more help from
the Soviets. Moscow was not especially interested to increase the Egyptian
capability   to   fight:   Moscow   was   interested   in   keeping   Arabs   under   control
and supplying them only with (what the Soviets though was) enough weapons to
defend   themselves,   but   nothing   else.   The   Soviet   leadership   knew   very   well
that any larger conflict could easily escalate into a direct confrontation
with the USA ­ and this could lead into an all­out global conflict. Besides,
most of the Soviet leadership could simply not understand the Arab wish for
more   and   more   advanced   weapons.   Nevertheless,   the   USSR   was   not   ready   to
admit a defeat of its arms ­ especially not at the hand of a US­built system
supplied   to   Israel.   Consequently,   a   decision   was   taken   to   "show"   ­   the
Egyptians, Arabs, and the World ­ what the Soviets were able. 

Before the first units of the Soviet Air Defence Force (V­PVO) could arrive
in Egypt, however, the Operation "Blossom" was continued, with new attacks
against targets deep inside Egypt being flown at least two or three times a
week. By 26 February, when the EAF/ADF MiG­21s managed for the first time to
force four Phantoms to abort their mission (albeit, losing three aircraft in
an encounter with escorting Mirages), the F­4Es of the 69th and 201st Sqns.
IDF/AF   flew   a   total   of   118   combat   sorties   deep   into   Egypt.   In   addition,
Mirages   and   Phantoms   equipped   with   reconnaissance   equipment   flew   several
dozens of recce missions over all the Egyptian main bases, gathering immense
amounts   of   intelligence.   In   early   March,   some   of   these   produced   photos
showing the first Soviet troops which landed in Egypt. 
Israeli   Mirage   IIIRJs   were   very   active   during   the   Attrition   War.   Equipped
with a range of differently configured "reconnaissance noses", they ranged
deep over Egypt and Syria on a number of highly dangerous missions. Several
times   their   operations   caused   clashes   with   Egyptian   fighters.   From   1970
their   role   was   increasingly   taken   over   by   RF­4Es,   but   IIIRJs   remained   in
service until after the Yom Kippour War, and were subsequently replaced by
reconnaissance versions of the IAI Kfir fighter.

Soviet Intervention

The   deployment   of   Soviet   units   to   Egypt   was   relatively   swift,   even   if


gradual. Organized in the frame of the Operation "Kavkaz", the first units
of the Soviet Air Defence Force, the V­PVO to arrive in Egypt were equipped
with   SA­3   SAMs   and   early   warning   radars.   A   total   of   three   SAM­brigades
arrived, one deploying along the Hulwan­Suez axis, another in the Alexandria
area,   and   a   third   one   defending   Cairo   and   two   other   important   bases.   The
first SAM­site was declared operational on 15 March 1970. 

Once   these   units   were   in   place   the   V­PVO   started   deploying   manned
interceptors as well: these were flown by hand­picked and specially trained
pilots ­ all "1st" or "2nd Class Snipers" (Soviet equivalent for excellent
fliers). They were formed into two regiments (one of which was 135th IAP),
each equipped with 36 MiG­21MFs. The so­far unidentified regiment was under
command   of   Col.   Konstantin   Korotyuk,   and   based   in   northern   Egypt,   on
airfields   in   the   Nile   Delta,   including   el­Mansourah   and   Kom   Awshim.   The
other   unit,   the   135th   IAP,   was   under   command   of   Col.   Yuriy   Nastenko,   and
based on airfields south­west of Suez, including Kutamiyah, Cairo West, and
Bani Suwayf. The Soviet pilots were scrambled for the first time on 18 April
1970, when two IDF/AF RF­4E were underway on a reconnaissance mission. The
Israelis have listened to Soviet communications, and knew very well who was
sent to intercept their recce planes; as no confrontation with the USSR was
intended,   the   Phantoms   were   ordered   to   abort   the   mission   and   return.
Instead, from that moment on, the IDF/AF tried to evade any confrontations
with Soviets, while concentrating on operations against areas defended only
by   Egyptians:   all   deep   strike   sorties   into   Egypt   were   cancelled.
Nevertheless, by that time a total of over 3.300 combat sorties were flown
during   the   Operation   "Blossom",   and   over   8.000   bombs   dropped   on   different
targets. 

Meanwhile,   the   Soviets   in   Egypt   acclimatized   and   ­   after   their   first


"operational"   missions   ­   became   bold   as   well,   trying   several   times   to
intercept Israeli fighters that were operating against the EAF/ADF. Within
several   days,   the   Israelis   started   to   feel   the   Soviet   presence   ­   and   the
presence of their weapons: first a Skyhawk was shot down, then two Phantoms
­ all by SA­3s ­ and subsequently two MiG­21s from the 135th IAP intercepted
a formation of Skyhawks near Giancalis and pursued them over Suez and deep
over Sinai, damaging one of them (but claiming it as shot down). Additional
engagements between Soviet and Israeli fighters were almost unavoidable, and
in   the   following   weeks   more   clashes   were   reported,   with   Soviets   even
claiming several kills, even if they have apparently not shot down a single
IDF/AF   fighter.   On   8   June,   for   example,   both   the   Soviet   and   the   Egyptian
MiG­21­pilots claimed two kills each against Israeli Phantoms: none could be
confirmed,   but   it   was   clear   that   a   new   battle   for   air   superiority   was   in
looming and the IDF/AF was losing the advantage it gained during "Blossom".
Two Phantoms were definitely shot down, however, by SA­3s on 30 June when
they   were   ambushed   by   the   Soviets   that   deployed   several   sites   to   a   new
position within a single night. The F­4s were hit while underway to attack
SAM­sites near the 101­kilometer mark on the Suez­Cairo road. Two pilots and
a   navigator   were   captured,   while   the   second   navigator   was   recovered   by
Israeli helicopters in the following night, but the loss was a devastating
blow   for   the   Israeli   Phantom­units.   The   problem   was   that   the   SA­3   had   a
built­in   "dive­on­target"   capability:   it   could   target   even   low­flying
targets.   It   was   a   much   smaller   missile   than   the   SA­2,   not   leaving   as
distinctive   smoke   trails   like   the   earlier   model,   and   was   also   highly
manoeuvrable. 

The   US   rushed   QRC­335A   (later   re­named   into   AN/ALQ­101)   ECM­pods   to   the


IDF/AF in reaction and it was expected that these would solve the problem: a
retaliation   attack   was   to   be   launched   on   18   July   by   both   F­4E­units   the
IDF/AF had at hand at the time, which were to fly strikes against a group of
five Egyptian SA­2 sites, some 55 kilometres west of Suez. The USAF advised
the Israelis to fly at a medium level and left their ECM­pods "do the job",
and this suggestion was followed. Yet, as the Phantoms were about the cross
the Suez they flew straight into a new trap and faced salvoes of the SA­3s.
While the pilots evaded most of the missiles in this exchange, one exploded
near   the   F­4E   flown   by   the   CO   201   Squadron,   and   he   went   down   with   his
crippled aircraft while attempting to dive and disengage at 600kt, several
kilometres outside Ismailia. Two other Phantoms managed to damage one SAM­
site, and destroy another, but then another F­4E was badly damaged and the
crew landed it in flames at Refidim, where it was written off. This was a
new surprise for the Israelis: although not a single missile scored a direct
hit, it was obvious that the new ECM­pods were either not functioning, or
not   sufficient   against   a   possible   use   of   so­called   "Soviet   War   Reserve
Modes" (WARMS), unknown to either the USA or Israel. 

The first batch of MiG­21MFs arrived to Egypt in the frame of deployment of
two regiments of V­VS. The aircraft were flown by hand­picked Soviet pilots
and  wore   different  versions   of  this   camouflage  pattern,   as  applied   at  the
Znamya Truda Works. 

Ambush for Russians

Eventually,   the   situation   became   unbearable   for   the   Israelis:   the   gloves
were now to be taken off. Free from defending neuralgic areas, and with the
IDF/AF reluctant to engage MiGs it was not sure if they were flown by the
Soviets or Egyptians, the EAF was now able to hit enemy positions in Sinai
very   hard,   while   simultaneously   moving   its   SAM­sites   closer   to   the   Suez,
thus closing the sky over potential crossing points for IDF/AF aircraft. The
losses in Phantoms were also painful and there was no clear solution for the
new   SAM­threat.   Therefore,   on   25   July,   the   IDF/AF   began   planning   a   new
ambush,  this   time  specifically   planned  to   lure  Soviet   MiG­21s  in   front  of
three   sections   of   Mirages   and   Phantoms,   flown   by   hand­picked   pilots,   and
thus make the situation "clear". 

On   30   July,   shortly   after   1400hrs,   two   F­4Es   bombed   the   Egyptian   radar
station   at   Sohana,   in   the   Gulf   of   Suez.   Four   high­flying   Mirages   were
nearby,   with   four   additional   Phantoms   at   low   level,   all   waiting   for   the
Soviets   to   appear.   Further   to   the   rear   four   additional   Mirages   were
positioned as well. When there was no reaction from the Soviets, the front
section of Mirages penetrated deeper into Egypt: almost 12 minutes after the
initial attack, the Soviets finally reacted. The first to be scrambled were
eight   MiG­21s   of   the   135th   IAP,   led   by   Capt.   Kamencev.   They   expected   to
clash   with   a   group   of   Skyhawks   or   Phantoms   that   were   apparently   underway
towards   Cairo:   in   fact,   the   Mirages   were   only   dragging   them   in   front   of
Phantoms. As the pursuit continued, four additional MiGs were scrambled from
Kom Awshim, and now the rear quartet of Mirages joined the fray as well: in
response, the Soviets scrambled four additional MiGs from Kutamiyah. Aviem
Sela  later   provided  the   following  account   in  an   interview  for   the  Israeli
press: 
­ I was a number two of a section of Phantoms; we and two Mirages were up
against about ten MiGs. It was little unsettling to see so many aircraft at
once, so many fuel tanks being jettisoned all over the place. I didn't care
about numerical superiority ­ I was just afraid someone might bump into my
aircraft! 

One   of   Mirages   (flown   by   Asher   Snir)   fired   an   air­to­air   missile   seconds


after the battle began. The missile hit a MiG and set it on fire. The pilot
bailed   out;   the   aircraft   went   into   a   spin   and   dropped   like   a   stone   from
30.000ft.   The   Russian   pilot's   parachute   opened   right   away   ­   it's   not
supposed to: chutes are designed to open automatically at 10.000ft, so their
wearers  don't   freeze  or   suffocate  at   high  altitudes.   But,  this   pilot  used
the manual apparatus and opened the chute himself! Maybe he didn't want to
be taken alive... or maybe he just didn't know any better. 

Now some more of our aircraft had joined the battle; the Russians no longer
had numerical superiority. I started looking for a MiG to kill. Finally, I
found one ­ its pilot making a right turn, trying to close in on my number
one. I broke to the right ­ the MiG left my number one and started chasing
me! We stuck together for a while, dropping to about 15.000ft; at that point
he   was   only   about   150   meters   from   me.   I   could   see   the   pilot's   helmet
clearly. 

By   this   time   I'd   realized   the   Russian   pilot   was   inexperienced;   he   didn't
know how to handle his aircraft in a combat situation. At 15.000ft he proved
this fact by trying to escape in a steep dive to 7.00ft. All we had to do
was follow him and lock our radar onto him ­ and fire a missile. There was a
tremendous explosion ­ but the MiG came out of the cloud of smoke apparently
unharmed. That made me mad and I fired a second missile ­ which turned out
to be unnecessary. The Russian aircraft had, in fact, been severely damaged
by the first missile; suddenly, it burst into flames and fell apart. By the
time the second missile reached it, it wasn't there any more. 

Out   of   the   five   Russian   pilots   shot   down,   one   ejected   safely   and   was
recovered;   one   died   under   his   parachute,   and   Captains   Zuravyev,   Yurchenko
and Yakovlev were killed.

At the end of the battle formations from both sides became dispersed: the
Soviets  were   attempting  to   disengage,  while   the  Israelis   were  at   the  time
still not especially good in providing mutual support. The Soviets fired a
number   of   R­3S'   in   these   moments,   but   all   of   these   missed.   Eventually,
however, Capt. Kolesovlev and Puskarskiy managed to hit the Mirage flown by
Asher Snir while he was engaged with another MiG (the kill against which was
never confirmed): the Israeli landed safely at Refidim. 

In   conclusion,   there   was   little   doubt   that   the   Israeli   plan   worked:   five
Russians were shot down one after the other after being hit by Mirages and
Phantoms   successively.   Except   for   damaging   one   Mirage,   the   Russians   were
given  a   perfect  lection   in  modern   air­to­air  combat,   the  outcome   of  which
consists not only from excellent and combat proven pilots or good aircraft,
but also of reliable and functional weapons and combat experience, as well
as good preparation and lots the support. At latest now it became completely
clear who controls the air over the Suez Canal. Not that the Egyptians were
very sorry for their often arrogant Russian "instructors", but the EAF was
in action only days later, again attacking Israeli SAMs and causing several
air combats. The Soviets tried now several times also to set traps for the
Israelis, but with exception of one Mirage being damaged in a dogfight with
MiG­21s,   and   one   Phantom   by   SA­3s   (the   pilot   managed   to   land   the   badly
damaged aircraft at Refidim; if this Phantom was indeed written­off, then it
was the 16th Israeli loss since 1967) they obviously came away with empty
hands. 
The "Shahak" 52 was flown by Iftach Spector during the legendary clash with
the Soviets, on 30 July 1970. Sadly, no photograph of the entire aircraft
from this period is available, so that only the camouflage in the cockpit
area on this artwork can be considered as "authentic". The aircraft was lost
in a skirmish with Syrian MiG­21s, on 15 April 1974.

Conclusion

The "official" part of the Attrition War came to an end by a cease­fire, at
Midday of 4 August 1970. By that time, both sides were actually on the end
of their strengths: the Egyptians have suffered a loss of between 101 and
113 aircraft, of which 25 to Hawk SAMs, but their human losses were at least
ten times higher and including ­ according to Egyptian sources ­ up to 4.000
civilian   engineers   and   workers.   Besides,   in   his   book   "MiG­21   v   Lokalniyh
Konfliktah",   A.V.   Kotlobovskiy   specified   that   a   total   of   68   Soviet   and
Egyptian   MiG­21s   were   shot   down   by   the   Israelis   between   July   1967   and
September   1973,   while   68   others   were   lost   in   training   accidents.   The
Israelis   suffered   a   loss   of   594   dead   (including   33   IDF/AF   personnel)   in
addition to 15 or 16 aircraft. Both sides could actually not push for much
longer,   then   there   was   a   need   to   absorb   more   modern   equipment,   train
additional personnel and prepare for the inevitable new war that everybody
knew had to come, then it was clear that the Egyptians would sooner or later
request Sinai to be returned. 

The conflict, namely, was far from over, and it was clear that both sides
were not satisfied with the situation. The Egyptians wanted Sinai back, just
like Syrians wanted Golan, but the Israeli political leadership lacked the
will to negotiate, feeling safe after the huge success of the Six Day War,
in   1967,   and   the   successes   of   the   IDF(AF   during   the   War   of   Attrition.
Israeli Air Force, however, knew that the situation was different. Not only
have   the   Egyptians   established   a   powerful   SAM­belt   between   the   Canal­zone
and Cairo, but they now also had a free hand to move their SAMs closer to
Suez,   and   thus   disturb   IDF/AF   aircraft   in   their   operations   there.   The
Israelis,   namely,   needed   the   freedom   of   operation   to   be   able   to   conduct
reconnaissance   operations,   needed   in   order   to   detect   Egyptian   preparations
for   attack   into   Sinai,   which   clearly   had   to   come   ­   sooner   or   later.   They
also needed the ability to hit back so to pre­empt any Egyptian surprise­
attack. If the EAF/ADF could control the skies over the Suez, however, the
IDF/AF could not complete its task and it was clear that the Egyptian Army
could  also   cross  it   without  being   disturbed  by   Israeli  Air   Force.  Exactly
this was now to happen and therefore influence heavily the outcome of the
next round.

The "War of Attrition" was the first armed conflict in the Middle East in
which   truly   modern   technology   was   used   and   of   decisive   importance   for
success.   Continuous   battles   between   SAM­sites,   fighter­bombers   and
interceptors,   and   frequent   changes   of   the   tactical   situation   forced   the
Israelis and Arabs to use more sophisticated and complicated equipment, and
thus   constantly   train   for   maintenance   and   combat.   The   battles   also   became
more sophisticated, after all, both sides trained each other intensively by
their   operations   for   years.   Especially   the   involved   air   forces   needed   a
quiet period of time to reorganize, train replacements for so many losses ­
which were felt badly on both sides ­ prepare reserves, better study their
opponents, and understand the situation. There was, however, hardly enough
time for this. 

The   EAF   started   getting   its   own   MiG­21MFs   already   in   late   1969,   when   the
first out of some 110 aircraft arrived. However, the type was used in combat
for   the   first   time   by   the   Soviets,   in   April   1970,   when   several   were
scrambled to intercept an IDF/AF RF­4E underway over Egypt. This aircraft,
wearing the serial 8454 was one from the second batch of MiG­21MFs supplied
to the EAF after the end of the Attrition War. It survived the subsequent
carnage of the October/Yom Kippour War, in 1973, and was seen while still in
service during the mid­1970s.