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The British Influence Release date 17.03.2019
From runways to combat doctrines: the influence of the Royal Air Force on the IAF has been present even before Israel's establishment. Ever wondered if its influence lingers to this day? Grab yourself some tea and cookies and let's get started
Michal Ben-Ari

Our story begins in the 1930s, at the time of the British Mandate in Israel. When the Arab revolt began in 1936, there rose a need in airpower to act as a bridging force between Tel Aviv - the first Hebrew city - and the valley. At the time, the laws of the British mandate included limitations on military aviation.

At the same year, the "Aviron" aviation company was established. "Back then, we didn't know that the company was due to become the Israeli Air Force", said Lt. Col. (Res') N', a WSO (Weapon Systems Officer) at the 107th ("Knights of the Orange Tail") Squadron, which operates "Sufa" (F-16I) fighter jets. "The company was established by two people with goals and a vision. They realized that aerial force is the future. However, the difference between two aircraft and an entire force is large, and it was only the beginning".


Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Commander of the RAF, during his visit to Israel | Photography: Celia Garion

The Roots of the IAF
A turning point came several years later, during World War II. At first, the British would not allow qualified pilots to partake in aerial warfare. However, as the war grew longer and bloodier and the Royal Air Force began taking more and more losses, the British began recruiting additional pilots from England and the colonies under their rule at the time – this included Israel.

"Ezer Weizmann and Aharon Remez – who both became Commanders of the Air Force in the years to come – were qualified 'Spitfire' pilots. 25 additional aircrew members were then qualified to become fighter pilots in the Royal Air Force", elaborated Lt. Col. (Res') N'. "These pilots were the roots of the Israeli Air Force we know today". The pilots learned flight elements from the Israelis in the area and took their organizational structure from the Royal Air Force.


Brig. Gen. Nir Nin-Nun, Head of Air Support & Helicopter Division, during a visit to Britain | Archive Photo

At the same time, service members from the Haganah organization established the Palmah Squadron, using aircraft made by Aviron. These cannot be compared to the advanced fighter jets used by the British at the time, but they were still capable of taking off, landing and performing aerial photography sorties. And so, Israeli pilots trained by the professional, experienced Royal Air Force found themselves training alongside Palmah pilots, whose operation was based on improvisation, initiative and a deep commitment to their homeland. "The combination between the Royal Air Force and the Palmah Squadron is the reason for the establishment of the IAF", said Lt. Col. (Res') N'. "However, the IAF was influenced mainly by the RAF".

Elements and Infrastructure
How is it possible that Israel – just recently established as an official country - had a functioning, operational air force during the 1948 War of Independence? The answer is the British infrastructure constructed in Israel's territory. Ramat David, Hatzor and Tel-Nof are just several of the RAF bases utilized by the IAF to this day, and from these bases, hundreds of British fighter jets took off on sorties attacking the Nazi forces as part of World War II.


IAF transport helicopter training on British aircraft carrier | Photography: IDF Spokesperson

However, the British influence is present in more than mere infrastructure. The IAF's organizational structure is based on knowledge acquired by Ezer Weizmann and his brothers in arms during his service in the RAF. Beginning each day with a brief made up of the day's missions, ending each day with a debrief, and the two- or four-aircraft formation form of flight are all lessons learned from the British. The RAF also influenced the IAF's division of command and the separation of various directorates.

Still Learning
The cooperation between the RAF and the IAF has grown stronger over the past several years. A year and a half ago, the British visited Israel for a joint training with the Israeli Air Force's "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) helicopters in Palmahim AFB, and the Commander of the RAF visited the country several months later. In addition, the British forces have an airbase located in the Middle East and perform many of their missions nearby.


The two force's commanders | Photography: Celia Garion

"We are happy to cooperate and assist whenever we can", added Maj. I', an aircrew member at the 123rd ("Desert Birds") Squadron and head of the force's Europe & Asia International Affairs Branch. "Britain is one of the most advanced, operational countries around. Flying with them teaches us a lot".

"The Royal Air Force – which just celebrated 100 years of operational activity – has a glorious history", concluded Maj. I'. "They remain operationally relevant to this day, they established airbases which the IAF still uses today and were actually based in Israel – all this makes our ever-tightening cooperation more and more exciting".