IAF Magazine Articles | The Long Leg

The Long Leg

30 Years have passed since Operation "Wooden Leg" in which the IAF attacked the PLO terror organization Headquarters in Tunis, over 2,000 Kilometers from Israel. It was the farthest operation that the "Long Arm" of the IDF executed and it carried a clear and important message aimed at terror organizations. The two attacking squadron commanders still remember every detail – small and large

Credit: Shahar Zorani

On September 1985, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Avner Naveh sat in then IAF Commander, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Lapidot's office and asked him to build a long range strike model with GBU-15 munitions for the squadron he then commanded. "I wanted it to be checked", he said. He never expected that ten days after the meeting, he will fly in such a formation but not in training - as a part of an operational strike sortie.

On September 25, 1985 three terrorists from the PLO's "Force 17" gained control of an Israeli yacht that was anchored in the Larnaca port in Cyprus and murdered three Israelis on board.

"At the time, three years after the "First Lebanon" War, the terror attacks against Israel intensified and the attack in Larnaca was the straw that broke the camel's back", recalls Col. (Res.) Micky (Michael) Lev, then "Knights of the Twin Tail" F-15 Squadron Commander. Operation "Wooden Leg" began.

Anywhere, Anytime
"Tunis was not the first target, but a PLO training camp in Aden, Yemen but 24 hours after the command was given, it was decided to change the target. It was a strategic decision - Tunis is a more attractive target, so an attack there meant a stronger message", shares Col. (Res) Lev.

"At first we planned on attacking a different target which we were not sure was manned, but it changed to Tunis very quickly", adds Brig. Gen. (Res) Avner Naveh, who was the "Edge of the Spear" F-15 Squadron Commander.
"There was a feeling that we were being sent on a mission, in which the message was bigger than the attack itself", describes Brig. Gen (Res.) Naveh. "Its purpose was to show that the state of Israel can reach any point on earth and cause great damage to anyone acting against us".

Preparing for the Big Concert
The mission was assigned to two F-15 squadrons from the "Tel-Nof" Airbase.
It was further decided that 10 fighters-strikers would take off: six from the "Edge of the Spear" Squadron and four from the "Knights of the Twin Tail" Squadron, while only eight would take part in the strike and the remaining two would be back up. From the moment the targets destination was decided, strenuous work had begun: the Intelligence Directorate looked for the targets, Operations Division planned the attack and the squadrons began training.

"The attack in Tunis had a certain advantage because the flight was over the Mediterranean Sea, which flight paths are friendlier, which lowered the danger level when it comes to the mission", says Col (Res.) Lev.
"The preparations were complex mainly because of the target's range. We had practiced strikes and refueling in the past, but never in these distances", says Brig. Gen. (Res.) Naveh

It was supposed to be the IAF's farthest strike. "The range may not be threatened by SAM batteries or hostile countries, but there are still many situations that could occur along the way", says Brig. Gen. (Res.) Naveh.
"The operation was like an orchestra which has to play together: our aircraft, the refueling, the ATC and communications, everything had to work in complete synchronization like a huge concert".



The final brief was on October 1, 1985 when the pilots and WSO's met in the squadron while the technical team finished arming each jet with GBU-15 guided bombs and then they boarded the grey jets, carrying grape juice and dried fruit to help pass the long hours of flight.

They took off slowly because of their heavy weight and began flying towards the Hammam al-Shatt shore where the "Force 17" HQ was positioned.
"We felt like we were taking off for a mission with consequences", says Brig. Gen. (Res) Naveh and Col. (Res) Lev confirms: "The thing we avoided the most was hurting un-involved civilians. The targets we received were military targets".
On the way to their target, the aircrews identified a line of clouds which blocked their line of sight. "If we wouldn't have seen the targets we would have returned home", explains Brig. Gen. (Res) Naveh. "This was pre-autonomic precise weapons so we had to see the target".

As the jets approached the targets, the clouds dissipated. "The flight was relatively quiet, we spoke English until we reached the refueling aircraft", recollects Col. (Res) Lev. "There is no doubt that we were tense but not as a result of fear, but by the thoughts about the mission because there were many actions to carry out".

Then the Tunisian shore came into sight and the target was visible. The bombs dropped and on the radio, "Alpha" was heard time and time again. The pilots began climbing while checking that all the bombs were released and identifying one another for protection.

"The tense moment was when we dropped the munitions, during the attack itself. The targets were easy and clear and no crew had trouble identifying its target and yet, after it was all over, there was a great relief", Brig. Gen. (Res) Naveh recalls the moment he pressed the button. The mission was complete, but 1,280 miles still separated the crews and Israel.
"Now we have at least three hours until we get home. You understand you executed a strike of great importance, but now you have to go back and land safely", Says Col. (Res) Lev.

"The real excitement began when we landed", shares Brig. Gen. (Res) Naveh. "Before we landed, foreign Media Networks had already announced the attack and everyone who was a part of the preparation, awaited us at base. We executed the mission, but many people took part in it: the planning department, the operational teams and the technical division. The combat division in the IAF is small and behind it there is a whole armada that without it, operations would be impossible".

Operation "Wooden Leg" was precedential when considering its range and its outcome. "The mission was executed properly. Dozens of terrorists were killed and many were injured, it wasn't another routine attack. We used a complex weapon, all of the tests were run before the attack and the rest was out of our hands. The malfunctions were technical: one bomb which entered spin and another wasn't launched", asserts Brig. Gen. (Res) Naveh.
Even today, when discussing abilities, it is known that the IAF carried out an attack at such a long range 30 years ago", concluded Col. (Res) Lev.




More in this section

Flying Alone

A pilot that flies a single-seated fighter jet is faced with many challenges: from the moment he receives the mission and the takeoff, through the execution of the mission itself and to the landing, he faces all of these challenges and hardships alone. He knows that the success of the mission rests solely on his shoulders. A few of these pilots try to explain what qualities are needed in order to become a single-seat pilot

The New Black

Since the IAF's establishment in 1948, many different airplanes have flown Israel's skies, but few have left a mark in history like the "Black Spit" of the late Ezer Weizman, former Israeli President and IAF commander. Recently, the airplane was remodeled and is ready for take off