IAF Magazine Articles

It was a Winter's Tale

Why is it that we call the weather mother nature when so often it strikes us down with its powerful stormy fists, when it can toy with our hearts on a whim, destroying man's plans like a hand sweeping across a chessboard?

Surely it is nothing like the compassionate, caring, giving prototypical mother. It is for this reason that so often, man must learn to cooperate with the ever-changing weather for we know it definitely is not going to cooperate with us. Perhaps no entity knows this better than the worlds' militaries and the IAF is no exception.
Dani Roop, a corps meteorologist, waited with the IDF commanders, for the clouds to clear, during Operation "Wooden Leg".Brigadier General David Barki, head of the helicopter division, looked for a place to hide. Col. Arnon Levushin plunged into the clouds in order to blow up the Syrian General Staff headquarters and Brigadier General Yaakov Turner passed through an especially stormy Sukkot holiday.

Blue Corps and grey days

Almost every army in the world goes through this kind of ceremony every year. The soldiers wear special uniforms, reverse jackets or leather, and line up in rows. They raise their purple, frozen hands to their foreheads and salute their yearly visitor, the entity who has defeated the greatest military leaders in history: General winter.
While the home front copes with natural disasters like tsunamis and tornadoes, members of the military encounter obstacles of rain, storm, and impaired vision during training and battle, such that various techniques were developed for dealing with the grim tyrant.
Some fight it, some surrender and there are those who have already learned to cooperate with it and take advantage of the opportunity to surprise, attack, or defend from the enemy.
The winter creates such difficulties for the Air Force as well. In order to cope, advanced instruments are installed on the aircrafts, the pilots train in order to get to know difficult flight conditions and the meteorological center of the corps assists with forecasts and preparation. All of this is done in order to study the winter, to watch it and to beat it.
"In fact, you chase after nature and if what you have concluded is indeed true, you feel like you beat nature. It is a sublime feeling", says Dani Roop, formerly of the Air Force's center for meteorology.
The troubled relationship between the Air Force and the winter has had its ups and downs. There have been many cases where the stormy environment changed the wind direction for members of the corps and many times soured their spirits. Members of the forecasting unit try to give exact as possible answers, as far in advance as possible and particularly to warn against winter surprises.

Distant Clouds

Dani Roop already heard at the beginning of his army service that the activity of the forecasting unit affects the decisions of important operations of the Air Force.
"When I enlisted, they explained to me the importance of forecasting and as an example, they told me that [Menachem] Begin pushed off leaving for the attack of the nuclear reactor in Iraq several times according to the weather forecast of the unit", he recalls. "This is the pride of the unit, you know that you are a partner".
But personally, he experienced a similar case just in his last year of service. "At that time we gathered satellite photos from an area where we didn't know exactly what was happening there, because it was classified. In retrospect, I know that we were planning to attack the PLO headquarters in Tunisia".
Operation "Wooden Leg", was implemented in October 1985 after the murder of three Israeli tourists in Cyprus. The great importance of the operation, apart from the attack on the strategic target, was hidden more the 2000 Kilometers from Israel.
This was the farthest attack the Air Force has ever carried out. But before and during the operation, the senior IDF & IAF officers were tense, waiting for the weather's cooperation.
"They had already pushed off the operation due to the weather, but also on the designated day, the skies didn't part", tells Roop. "The forecast was for layered clouds until 10:30 in the morning and then afterwards there will be holes. I remember all of the IDF commanders at the forecasting station, everyone was full of adrenaline. There was great tension because when the planes left the clouds were still stable".
At 10:30, according to the unit weatherman's forecasts, IAF's "Baz" F-15 airplanes threaded their bombs through the holes that had just opened in the clouds. "The excitement was great and the campaign was successful".

With a Little Help

The head of the Helicopter branch experienced a similar case. In 1996, when he was Deputy Squadron Commander A in the Yasur (Sikorsky CH- 53 helicopter) Squadron, he went out together with his squadron for a special operation.
"The geographical route is characterized by high mountains and deep valleys", explains Brigadier General Barki. "When we passed by one of the cliffs we discovered a beautiful picture, but very problematic for the mission. There were very low clouds that were spread out like a thick blanket over the mountain terrain and the area where we were supposed to land was completely covered. I thought that the mission would be canceled because it was impossible to land but we continued to navigate towards a destination above the clouds".
A few kilometers later, near the designated landing area, "tears" in the dense blanket of clouds were revealed and it was decided to enter and land. "The squad disassembled quickly and very speedily climbed back up", recalls Barki.
"This is one of the campaigns where the weather can affect in a decided manner but the hand of the case created for us a hole in the cloud precisely at the appropriate point".

Don't Give up on the Clouds

in contrast to operations like "Wooden Leg", where it was possible to push off the date of action in accordance with the weather, in war times there isn't always time to be flexible. In war, the weather's cooperation is as important as ever and timing is key.
During the Yom Kipur war, Egyptian and Syrian ground troops advanced quickly into Israeli territory and the Syrians also launched "Frog" land-land missiles toward the home front. Some of the missiles hit the Ramat David Air Base.
To put an end to the missile attacks and to deter Jordan from joining the fight, it was decided to send the Air Force to the heart of Damascus to attack the Syrian General Staff.
At 11:30 in the morning, on the sixth day of the war, eight Phantom planes left en route to Damascus. After they crossed the Lebanese mountains and approached their target, the Pilots were confronted with difficult weather conditions and meanwhile, technical problems forced one of the planes to return back to its base.
"We flew at low altitude over the sea to avoid Syrian radar and the closer we got to our target, the worse the weather got. At one point we reached an area which was entirely covered by clouds", recalls Colonel (Res.) Arnon Levushin.
"The clouds and winds created unbearable flight conditions and impossible navigations conditions".
The meteorological challenge was a serious obstacle for others as well.
Another octet of airplanes that left in the direction of the Syrian front turned back due to weather conditions and an additional octet changed its destination. But Levushin kept on.
"Despite the first instinct that told me to turn around and go back, I decided to continue with the attack", he recalls.
"When we got out of the clouds, I realized that we had deviated from the flight path. Fortunately, I prepared a number of alternatives to identify that there was no problem to continue the mission. We were successful in getting to the destination in surprise, we released the bombs and the hits were accurate".
After the bombing, the Syrians opened fire and one of the Phantoms crashed in Syrian territory. The Pilot, Captain Dov Shapir, was killed and the navigator, Yaakov Yaakoby, was captured by the Syrians. Despite the losses, the operation was a success.
As a result of the bombing, the top floors of the Syrian General Staff building were hit along with parts of the Syrian Air Force headquarters. The story became a legendary battle among corps pilots and one of the more prominent heroic stories in the history of Israel. Col. (Res.) Levushin and the Navigator Col. (Res.) Lior Eliezer, were awarded Israel''s Exemplary Medal for operating the attack.

Not Always a Friend

Sometimes, during tougher winter days, training flights are cancelled and members of the Air Force are forced to stay on the ground and wait till the storm passes.
But sometimes, the storm strikes the ground like on Saturday, October 17, 1997 in the Hatzerim Air Base and the nearby Air Force Museum.
"The dates of the 17-18 of October were already etched in the conscious of the forecaster as a dangerous date", jokes Major Gil Sherman, head of the forecasting branch of the corps.
The transition period between the autumn and winter is characterized by tropical influences: weather systems that come from the south from the equator up to the Red Sea. "In forecaster's language we call that the 'Red Sea Channel', adds Major Sherman.
"What happens many times is that after this 'channel', bad weather is created: active clouds, rain and strong winds".
In 1997, the "Red Sea Channel" met the winter weather systems that arrived from the Mediterranean and the encounter bore a developing block of clouds in an area of a few miles: west of Gaza to east of Hatzerim.
"It was a very sudden event", remembers Major Sherman. "It was difficult to predict the strength because the forecaster knows how to predict in a rough scale, but in this case it was a few isolated quarter acres".
The damage caused by the concentrated storm was enormous. The control tower at Hatzerim Base was hit and the glass shattered but the main thing damaged was the Air Force Museum.
The storm passed right through the plane yard in the museum and despite lasting only minutes, it left considerable damage.
"Everything was already prepared for the next day but at two in the afternoon I received a call that a big storm passed through the museum. I immediately left my house and raced south. When I reached the museum my eyes darkened. I found planes upside down and a shelter that was completely destroyed and buried underneath it were three light planes", recalls Brigadier General (Res.) Yaakov Turner, commander of the museum. "Sukkot is one of the more important holidays for the museum because there are a lot of visitors and we take out the red carpet for the occasion".
But that year the museum had one too many visitors, one that ruined the celebration for everybody.
"The next day we were still licking our wounds. Through all of this, people still came to the museum. The story was published in the media so that instead of seeing planes, people came to see the ruins".
These stories are just a small example of the fact that even today, in the 21st century, despite all of our technological advancements, mother nature continues to make her mark on human activity.
All we can do is come to understand the weather just enough to use it to our advantage and hope for a small opening in the skies.

 

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