IAF Commanders

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Avihu Ben-Nun

September 1987 - January 1992

Lieutenant General (retired) Avihu Ben Nun, the eleventh Commander in Chief of the Israeli Air Force, was born in Givat Ada in 1939. Ben Nun enlisted in the IDF at the end of 1957, volunteered for pilot training and graduated as a combat pilot.

In 1961 he became a Flight School instructor and served in this role for two years. In July 1963 he joined a Mirage squadron at Hatzor Airbase, and was a member of the team which established Israel's third Mirage squadron at Tel Nof in 1966. He served as Second-in-Command A in a Mystère squadron based on Tel Nof. It was in this squadron that he flew in the Six Day War, and it was over this squadron that he took command after its commander was forced to abandon his aircraft during his first operational sortie. Following the war he was transferred to Tel Nof's Mirage squadron, as Second-in-Command A.

Whilst flying with Tel Nof's Mirage squadron, Ben Nun downed two of the four aircraft he would take down in his career in the IDF; in July 1967 the first aerial combat after the Six Day War took place. The Egyptians, who had recently been equipped with the MiG-21 by the Soviet Union, sent four MiGs to intercept IAF aircraft that were patrolling the Suez Canal and Ben Nun downed one of them. In October 1967 a pair of Mirages were scrambled, and led by Ben Nun to intercept two MiG-21s that had penetrated Sinai, apparently with the aim of carrying out an attack. Ben Nun chased down the MiGs, and successfully downed one of them west of the Suez Canal.

In March 1969 Ben Nun was sent to the USA as part of the team who arranged the receipt of the Phantom aircraft. In September 1969, in the midst of the War of Attrition, Ben Nun was made the first commander of one of Ramat David's Phantom squadrons. The new squadron, with only a limited number of pilots and navigators, was required to provide training to new pilots whilst simultaneously flying operational sorties of many kinds, including aerial photography, sorties deep into enemy territory, missile attacks and aerial combat. In a famous dogfight against Soviet pilots, late in the War of Attrition on 30th July 1970, Ben Nun downed one MiG. In September he also took down a Sukhoi-7, which had penetrated Israel and was flying towards the Golan Heights. The same month, Ben Nun was appointed head of the Attack Branch in Air Force Headquarters, and served in this role during the Yom Kippur War. In 1974 he left for a year of studies at the USAF's Air University in Alabama, where he was the first Israeli officer to attend. He completed his studies with honors.

With his return to Israel in 1975 he was appointed head of the Operations Department, and promoted to the rank of colonel. From 1977-1982 he commanded over the Hatzor and Tel Nof airbases. In April 1982 he returned to IAF Headquarters as head of the Air Group, and from December 1983 he served as head of IAF Headquarters, until leaving to study Business Management in 1984. In June 1985 he transferred to work as part of the IDF's General Staff in the Planning Branch and was promoted to Major General. In 1987 he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Israel Air Force, replacing Amos Lapidot.

Like his predecessor, Ben Nun had to cope with large budget cuts, which forced IAF Headquarters to reexamine and reorganize their human resources. Significant restructuring took place, allowing the IAF to continue to operate on the lower budget with only a minimal impact on its operational capacities.

During Ben Nun's tenure, the Apache helicopter was received and the number of F-15s and F-16s was increased. Under his command the IAF took part in numerous missions, amongst them approximately 550 attacks in Lebanon, thousands of aerial photography missions throughout the Middle East, upwards of one thousand rescue and evacuation missions, and the airlift of thousands of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia.


Avihu Ben-Nun
Avihu Ben-Nun