Vulture, Lion Cub, Lion and Tiger

On the eve of The Six Days War, France, then Israel’s largest supplier of weapons and technology, imposed an embargo on the selling of weapons to Israel. This was a major problem for the Israeli army in general, and the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in particular. At the time, France supplied Israel with advanced weapons and technology, while other countries, such as England, Canada and the United States settled for selling outdated weapons if anything. Among the items that were affected were 50 Mirage V fighter jets, that Israel helped design, and already ordered and paid for. The IAF’s need only grew more a few days later, in the aftermath of the Six Days War and the beginning of what later be named the War of Attrition, where Israel lost more than 45 crafts.

The IAI Nesher during the Yom Kippur War

In an operation that much of its details remain obscure, Israel managed to obtain the Mirage V blueprints (some say through a Swiss agent working at the company that fabricated the engines for the Mirage V1), and using French spare parts (that were not included in the embargo), cooperation with several foreign factories, a wink and a nod of the French regime, and plenty of work and Israeli technology, the Israeli Aerospace Industries (the IAI) built its first fighter jet, the IAI Nesher (Hebrew for “vulture”), in early 1971. The Neshers were extensively used during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, where they managed to shoot down 111 enemy jets. Later, they were gradually replaced until they were decommissioned in 1978. Some of those jets were then fixed up and sold to the Argentinian Air Force.

Israel continued with its efforts, and attempted to replace the engine of the Nesher with a different one designed by General Electric, that Israel has fabricated with a license.  As a result, by 1975 Israel introduced its newest fighter jet – the IAI Kfir (Hebrew for “baby lion”). The Kfir featured technological improvements and better maneuverability and was in use by the IAF from 1975 to 1996. Various variants were manufactured, and sold (with American consent) to Columbia, Sri-Lanka, and Ecuador. Some jets were also used by the American army in fighting simulations. The later South-African fighter jet, the Atlas-Cheetah was based on the Kfir.

Israel continued with its efforts and spent great resources on the Lavi Project (Hebrew for “Lion”), and the IAI Nammer (Hebrew for “Tiger”) in the 80s, but despite reaching advanced levels and test flights, these projects were cancelled, and the existing prototypes were scrapped into aluminum bars. 

The technological challenges of designing and fabricating an aircraft, let alone a fighter jet, are massive, probably more than I can ever understand. The fact that Israel, a very small state with very limited resources, managed to manufacture hundreds of them (with some cooperation) is nothing short of remarkable.


1  The man, Alfred Frauenknecht, was charged and convicted in 1971 for the theft of the Mirage V blueprints. By his own admission, he received $200,000 from Israel. He was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail, and died of a heart attack in 1991 at the age of 64.

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PItched battles

You mean you’ll put down your rock and I put down my sword, and we’ll try to kill each other like civilized people?
– The Princess Bride

War is an ugly business, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be civilized. At least in the past, when people had to kill each other face-to-face, and not through the air at the press of a button.

Spoiler alert: this will not end well for Hector

Achilles and Hector

First way to go about it is to reach with your army and face your enemy. At that point, each side chooses one person (sometimes called a champion), and they alone fight. Winner takes all. The losing side can sometimes even keep their heads, as they are sometimes taken for ransoms, not to mention the thousands or tens of thousands of ordinary foot soldiers that are spared. Such fights were more common in ancient times, and include, for example the epic battle between Achilles and Hector in Homer’s Illiad.

But say you already raised an army and marched it a long way, maybe you want to get your money’s worth and have it fight (not to mention the wages you don’t have to pay dead soldiers) — it’s really unnecessary to kill civilians and destroy cities while you’re at it. In somewhat similar fashion to what later be dubbed “a quick draw duel” in the Wild West, both armies set a time and a place for the battle in advance. An additional improvement on this scheme is the army’s option to withdraw prior to the battle (or shortly after it began) without the second army pursing and destroying it. This type of battle was part of the chivalry code and practiced during the middle ages. One such battles took time during the first English Civil War in 1642.

I’ll be remiss in my geekiness if I don’t mention in that context the classic Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon“, in which two powers are fighting each other through computer-simulated bombardments in order to avoid the collateral damage to their society and environment.

Nowadays, the term “pitched battle” is used to describe a conflict which its place and time were anticipated.

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