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Hatzor AFB Turns 70 Release date 25.10.2018
With a long legacy and a part in most of the IAF's operational activity, Hatzor airbase marks its 70th anniversary
Yael Fuchs | Photography: Mike Yudin

Yesterday (Wednesday) the IAF marked 70 years since the establishment of Hatzor AFB, one of its main airbases, in a ceremony attended by IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Hatzor's commanders over the generations and the airbase's service members, both past and present.

Archive Photo

"70 years ago – everything began", said Maj. Gen. Norkin. "Throughout the entire year, the IAF has soared upwards. We operate in several theatres at the same time, both in defense and in offense, and the IAF's service members continue to maintain the safety of Israel's civilians every day. Hatzor AFB is an active part of all these, and its achievements are a source of pride. We will continue to prepare ourselves for harder challenges, debrief ourselves and learn from our mistakes – this is how we will be a relevant aerial force".

Photography: Mike Yudin

"Over the years, Hatzor's service members have stretched the boundaries of courageousness and set new records", said Col. A', Commander of Hatzor AFB. "From the base which kicked off the 1967 Six Day War, today's aircrew members take off on complex operational missions which strengthen Israel's air supremacy and maintain Israel's freedom of action".

How It All Began
May 29th 1948, the War of Independence. Arabian militaries are making their way into Israel's territory. A watchtower in Nitzanim reports an Egyptian convoy made up of 1,300 vehicles en route to Tel Aviv.

Four "Messerschmitt" aircraft from the 101st ("First Fighter") Squadron recently imported from Czechoslovakia took off at 7:45PM from Ekron AFB, later known as Tel-Nof, with the goal of attacking the Egyptian convoy. Even though the aircraft were hastily constructed and did not go through all of their necessary basic examinations, they took off, flown by four pilots – Capt. Lou Lenart Z"L, Lt. Col. (Res') Modi Alon Z"L, Maj. Gen. (Res') Ezer Weizmann Z"L and Lt. (Res') Eddie Cohen Z"L.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with Lt. Col. Modi Alon Z"L, the "First Fighter" Squadron's first commander | Archive Photo 

The aircraft flew in formation over Ashdod, dropping bombs and firing at the Egyptian cannons while under fire. The Israeli attack caused the Egyptians to halt their progression into Israel's territory. Three of the aircraft landed safely in Ekron, while Eddie Cohen Z"L's aircraft crashed. The pilots from the 101st Squadron worked courageously and performed the IAF's first attack sortie. The attack marked the beginning of the IAF's operational activity with the goal of achieving air supremacy in Israel.

When the war ended in November 1948, the IAF's commanders looked for a new base for the 101st Squadron following a newly discovered difficulty in its home base – the incapability of taking off in rainy weather. It was agreed that the squadron's new airbase would be Hatzor, established in 1942 by the Royal Air Force. The airbase was under British control during the War of Independence until it was evacuated and staffed by "Haganah" forces in 1948.

Photography: Mike Yudin

A significant milestone in the airbase's history is the part it played in Operation "Focus". On June 5th, 1967, after years of planning, the operation was underway – Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian airbases were attacked by the IAF. This operation marked the beginning of the Six Day War and practically decided its results.

The plan was made up of two main elements: low-altitude flight and radio silence, both with the goal of surprising the enemy. "The commander of the air force briefed us and said: 'We will adhere to our mission at any cost. We can't just hit the targets, we have to destroy them. Seeing as the enemy is listening, we'll maintain complete radio silence until the moment of attack. In case you encounter an emergency, bail out. We'll come and rescue you", said Brig. Gen. (Res') Aharon Shavit, Commander of the 105th ("Scorpion") Squadron during the war.

The IAF Magazine Archive

The designated attack time was 7:45AM. Several fighter jets took off one after the other. "We were given instructions which we had never been given before", said Maj. Gen. (Res') Amos Lapidot, who was previously the Commander of the IAF and served as the Commander of the 101st Squadron during the war. "For example, we were told that we weren't allowed to fly above 100 feet under any circumstances - usually, one is never supposed to fly below 300 feet".

The jets encountered a major challenge: they knew the area from high-altitude aerial photographs, but the low-altitude flight made the scenery seem completely different. The aircrew members continued on their mapped route in spite of their uncertain conditions and finally managed to reach the designated point. "When I approached the Egyptian airfield I encountered heavy fog, barely even managing to see the jet behind me", said Brig. Gen. (Res') Shavit. "I understood I had to fly east in order to be able to see my surroundings. When the visibility conditions improved we bombed a control tower, a missile battery and parked aircraft".

Photography: Mike Yudin

Changing Along the Way
Hatzor AFB has been heavily involved in the IAF's operational activity over seven decades, playing a significant part in the air force. Today, the airbase has two "Barak" (F-16C/D) squadrons: the 101st Squadron and the 105th Squadron.

Nowadays, the airbase is undergoing a major change – in a year, it will integrate the units and squadrons previously operating from Sde-Dov AFB. The change will improve the IAF's operational capabilities and human resources, as well as Hatzor AFB's infrastructure. Air Defense Division units will also be transferred to Hatzor, which will turn into a multi-mission airbase, partaking in defense, offense, interception and intelligence collection.

Photography: Mike Yudin

"In the coming years, working in unison will be fighter and transport squadrons, air defense division battalions and aviation, administration and maintenance squadrons", said IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Norkin. "We are proud of the work done over the past 70 years. We remember the 194 service members lost. We look high towards the future, understand the responsibility at hand and understand that we are prepared for any challenge".