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Behind Operation "Horev" Release date 08.01.2019
243 sorties, aerial dogfights and multiple bombings in the Negev Desert: 70 years have passed since Operation "Horev", the largest IDF operation during the 1948 War of Independence. The goal: capturing the Negev and expelling the Egyptian military from Israel's territory
Dor Palkovitch & Yael Fuchs

One of the 1948 War of Independence's final stages was Operation "Horev", an attack on the Egyptian expeditionary force in the Negev and Eastern Sinai. Operation "Horev" was the last operation in the Egyptian front during the war, meant to complete Israel's efforts of capturing the Negev and expelling the Egyptian military from Israel's territory.

The operation was composed of two parts: the first was eliminating the Egyptian military's eastern and western branches using diversion tactics, and the second was blocking the main road leading from Egypt to Israel in order to disable the Egyptian military's ability to reach the Gaza Strip and receive backup. The IAF's operational plan was synchronized with the IDF ground forces and included close air support and bombing on enemy airbases.

Archive Photo

The operation was originally scheduled for December 19th, but the weather was especially stormy that day and so the operation was delayed until the 22nd of December. The IAF requested to delay the operation for different reasons. At the time, new "Spitfire" aircraft from Czechoslovakia were integrated into the air force – the new aircraft were a significant addition to the air force in combat. In addition, IAF pilots stayed in Czechoslovakia in order to learn about the new aircraft and fly them to Israel. The IAF's service members also claimed that the intel at their disposal wasn't updated, and that additional intelligence collection had to be performed before the operation began.

Dogfights Over Arish
On December 22nd, 1948, at 4:04PM, IAF B-17s bombed the El Arish Airport – this was the first strike of the operation. Arish was an important crossroads for the Egyptian military, and all around were bases utilized by the Egyptian Air Force. The IAF bombers hit the runways and a parked "Dakota" aircraft.

Later in the day, two "Piper" aircraft took off on a bombing sortie in Al-Faluja, a fortified Egyptian military facility near Kiryat Gat. Located in the facility was a young officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser, future President of Egypt. Afterwards, the Egyptians fired anti-aircraft weapons towards the "Piper" aircraft and one was hit in its right wing. In spite of the difficulties, the pilot managed to land safely in Ekron AFB (now named Tel-Nof).

Egyptian target before a strike | Archive Photo

A week later, at 7:17AM, another pair of "Spitfire" aircraft from the 101st ("First Fighter") Squadron took off on a mission. The pilots detected four Egyptian "Spitfire" and four "Fiat" aircraft on their way to assist ground forces trapped in Al-Faluja. Without a moment's hesitation, the Israeli aircraft dived towards the Egyptians, two vs. eight. One of the Israeli aircraft managed to intercept one of the Egyptians. At the same time, the second Israeli aircraft was in a dogfight with another Egyptian aircraft. An additional Egyptian tried to get on one of the Israelis' tail, but he managed to evade with only his left wing being hit. Just several seconds later, the Israeli pilot detected an additional enemy aircraft flying towards Arish and opened fire. The Egyptian aircraft was hit and dived into the sea.

Beyond Borders
IDF ground forces advancing towards Arish discovered a small Egyptian airport. The force raided the airfield and its workers escaped. An Egyptian "Spitfire" was found in the airfield alongside several dummy aircraft and aircraft ammunition. "I was surprised when I saw eight Spitfires in the airfield covered with a camouflage net. However, besides one, all of them were dummy aircraft. I climbed into the real 'Spitfire' and started the engine", said Boris Senior Z"L, a Mahal volunteer and one of the IAF's founders, in his book. Senior established the IDF's Anti-Aircraft Division, proposed today's IAF emblem and acted as the Head of the IAF Air Branch.

Al-Faluja under attack | Archive Photo

"I couldn't start the engine", wrote Col. Senior Z"L, who served as a fighter pilot in the 101st Squadron and was sent to retrieve the Egyptian aircraft. "I refused to leave the valuable aircraft there so I attached its rear wheel to the command car and began towing it towards our lines. I couldn't keep at it after 1-2 hours of towing, so I hitched a ride back to Tel Aviv. Afterwards, near Beersheba, a car driving in the opposite direction crashed into the aircraft and ripped off its wing". The Egyptian aircraft was transferred to the 101st Squadron, where it was fixed.

Operation "Horev", the largest IDF operation during the War of Independence, concluded the war with Egypt. Throughout the operation, the IAF performed various missions including attack, interception, convoy detection, reconnaissance and photography. The IAF performed 243 sorties during the operation and laid bombs weighing 226 tons. The operation pushed the Egyptians beyond the border and took over the country's western segment. Combat moved outside of Israel for the first time. Following the operation, the Egyptians officially recognized the State of Israel and began negotiations regarding a truce. The truce was determined on January 7th 1949 at 2PM, and on February 24th 1949, Egypt became the first country to sign an armistice agreement with Israel.