The Israeli War of Independence ended in 1949 with Syrian control of land
within mandatory Palestine, land which the UN, in its 1947 partition plan,
had originally set aside for Israel. This enabled to Syrians to take a hard
stance in their negotiations with the newborn state, and Syria was indeed
Israel's last neighbor to sign an armistice agreement, on July 20th 1949.
The armistice agreements, however, were only meant to serve as an interim
solution to the Mid East conflict and were supposed to be followed by permanent
peace agreements. This lead to the disputed lands being given a temporary
status. The armistice agreements declared these as de-militarized zones,
their future to be settled once permanent peace had been achieved. In the
meanwhile, civilian life in the zones was to return to normal, without determining
the final status of the disputed lands. Peace, however, did not come, and
both sides interpreted "civilian life" as having quite different meanings.
Syria sought to maintain the situation as it was when the armistice agreements
were signed. Israel, on the other hand, saw it as its right to settle and
develop these areas, a move seen by Syria as dictating the future of the
Syria was also trying at the time to undermine Israel's sovereignty over the Sea of Galilee, a lake entirely under Israel's control in both the UN partition plan and the 1949 armistice agreements. Both documents entitled Israel to a strip of land around the entirety of the lake, but Syria would not cede control to Israel of the lake's northeastern shore. Coupled with Syria's objection to Israel's ambitious water plans, meant to boost the economy of the young state, all these factors contributed to a very volatile situation along the Israeli-Syrian border.
The first exchanges of fire came in March 1951, during Israel's desiccation of Lake Hula, and would continue on and off for 16 years until the Six Days War of June 1967. This series of clashes, which has become known as the War for the Water, saw repeated attacks by Syrian forces against the Israeli presence in the demilitarized zones, against Israeli shipping in the Sea of Galilee and against Israeli settlements along the border. Israeli retaliation came in the form of attacks and raids against Syrian border posts, although these were usually carried out by ground forces, rarely by the IAF. The IAF had only become involved in the war from 1962 onwards, after Israeli settlements came under fire from Syrian artillery. Tensions were heightened even further in 1964 when Syria begun work to block water originating in Lebanon and Syria from flowing into Israel, diverting it to Jordan instead. This would have effectively robbed Israel of half of the northern Jordan's river water supply. Israel would henceforth use any cross border fire as an excuse to target these works, IAF strikes taking place in 1964 and 1966.
The beginning of April 1967 saw Israel ready to resume cultivation of three
plots near Kibbutz Ha'on, in the southern demilitarized zone, south of the
Sea of Galilee. Although initially planned for April 3rd, bad weather prevented
work from beginning on that date and it was delayed until April 7th. Israel,
meanwhile, put the IDF on alert, fully aware that deterioration along the
border was not unlikely. Tanks, artillery and mortars were moved into positions
around the Sea of Galilee, while at various IAF bases aircraft were fuelled
and armed for the day's possible combat. Search-and-Rescue helicopters,
light observation aircraft and the IAF's command and control structure were
put on alert as well, all in anticipation of events on the border.
On the morning of April 7th two Israeli tractors begun their work on the disputed plots, overlooked by Syrian posts on the Golan Heights. The work had received a go-ahead despite continued bad weather, after the IDF had learned that the weather was to clear up later in the day, allowing IAF aircraft to participate in whatever fighting erupted. The day's hostilities begun shortly later when cannon and gun fire opened up on the tractors from the Syrian post at Amrat Az-El-Din. Israeli ground forces returned fire and deterioration was quick to follow, tank and artillery fire erupting as well.
By late morning, Syrian shells begun falling in Kibbutz Tel-Katzir and the IDF Chief-of-Staff, Itzhak Rabin, asked the Israeli government to authorize IAF strikes against 4 Syrian posts along the frontier. The IAF received its orders at 12:14 and quickly launched its aircraft. Yet only when shelling of the Israeli tractors resumed were these permitted to carry out their attacks. Commencing at 13:32, the attack was led by 110th Squadron Vautours, followed by 107th Sqn. Ouragans, 105th Sqn. Super Mysteres, 116th & 109th Sqn. Mysteres and by 117th Sqn. Mirages..
The attack was broken off however, when Syrian MiGs were spotted making
their way towards the combat zone. The attacking aircraft were therefore
pulled back and 101st "First Fighter" Squadron Mirages were vectored in
to engage the new arrivals. The day's first two dogfights begun at 13:58
with Captains Iftah Spector & Benyamin Romah engaging a pair of MiG-21s
over the Syrian town of Kuneitra. The high-speed approach between the two
pairs soon turned into a tight twist and turn dogfight, the Israeli Mirages
attempting to close in on the MiGs from behind. Spector was first to achieve
this and downed one MiG after maneuvering slightly above his opponent and
then sinking in for the kill. Romah however, found himself on a parallel
course with the other fighter. Breaking toward the MiG at full throttle
and with his afterburner, he managed to cut off his opponent and then approach
him from the rear. Already over Damascus and pressured to turn back, Romah
only managed a short burst from 400 meters away. This was sufficient for
the kill, and the MiG was seen going down, exploding a few seconds later
after taking hits from Spector's aircraft as well.
The dogfight had just ended when more Syrian Migs were spotted in the vicinity of the southern demilitarized zone. Kibbutz Ein-Gev on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee soon came under fire, apparently from four MiGs which had overflown the settlement unnoticed by the IAF. A pair of 117th "First Jet" Squadron Mirages flown by Sqn. commander Major Amihay Shmueli and Captain Shlomo Nir, on patrol over the western shore of the lake, were directed eastwards towards the intruders. Contact was made at 14:53 when the two Mirages spotted a lone MiG-21. Nir fired a single Shafrir air-to-air missile but missed completely. Retreating back to Syria by this point, the MiG was shielded by the cloud cover over the Golan Heights and managed to elude the Israeli fighters. It soon became apparent however, that the shells falling in Ein-Gev did not originate from the MiGs but rather from one of the Syrian posts on the Heights. Shells, meanwhile, begun falling on another Israeli settlement, this time Kibbutz Gadot in the central demilitarized zone. Within 15 minutes a new attack plan was formed and the IAF initiated strikes against the posts overlooking Gadot. After an hour long attack that begun at 15:25 the Syrians ceased their shelling of the Kibbutz.
By the time the shelling was over, another Syrian MiG had fallen prey to Israeli Mirages, this time from the 119th "Bat" Squadron. At 15:52 a dogfight took place between another pair of MiG-21s and two Mirages flown by Squadron leader Major Ran Peker and Captain Avraham Shalmon. Once again both pilots went after separate foes in dogfights that took them into Syrian territory. Peker's first Shafrir launch was a near miss, the missile's proximity fuse failing to detonate. The MiG pilot, upon spotting the missile, attempted to evade Peker by engaging his afterburner, the effect of which was actually providing Peker's second Shafrir with a near-perfect heat signature of the aircraft's engine. Peker however, in his eagerness, launched the missile out of envelope and the MiG managed to evade the missile. Now it was Peker's turn to engage his afterburner and close in for a cannon kill. A two seconds burst was sufficient to detonate one of the MiG's fuel tanks, turning the aircraft into a ball of fire. Shalmon meanwhile, was chasing the other MiG at full afterburner having jettisoned his underwing fuel tanks. From 1,000 meters away he fired his first Shafrir but the missile failed to hit its target. The second missile proved to be a miss as well, fired from 700 meters away. Shalmon then closed in to within 400 meters before firing his cannons. Although apparently hitting his opponent, he was directed to disengage. While the Mirages were making their way back to Tel-Nof, the stricken MiG made its way back to Syria's Dumayr air base.
The IAF's afternoon strikes ended at 16:16 and only six fighters remained on the scene, a pair from each Mirage squadron: the 101st, 117th & 119th. But while IAF aircraft were making their way back to base, four MiG-21s were taking off from Dumayr and making their way to the front at low altitude. The four MiGs aircraft appeared over the southern Golan Heights at 16:27, taking a route that took them from south to north over the frontier. By this time the two 117th Sqn. Mirages, flown by Major Ezra Dotan and Captain Avraham Lanir had teamed up with the 119th Sqn. aircraft, flown by Majors Mordechai Yeshurun and Oded Sagi, while the 101st Sqn. Mirages, flown by Captains Avner Slapak and Amnon Shamir, were patrolling elsewhere. At 16:30 ground control informed the six pilots of the enemy aircraft in their vicinity. The time of day was ideal for the Israeli pilots, with the afternoon sun at their backs, providing them with excellent visibility while blinding their opponents.
Four, Five & Six
Ezra Dotan was first to spot the MiGs, west of Pik, a Syrian village near the Jordanian-Israeli-Syrian tri-border area. Spotting the Syrian formation's rear guard lagging behind the leading pair, Dotan and Lanir proceeded to take on the rear pair, Dotan taking on the formation's no 3. and Lanir engaging no. 4. An attempt by Dotan to launch one of his Shafrir failed and he was forced to chase his opponent at low altitude through the canyons of the Yarmouch, a tributary of the Jordan River. A burst of cannon fire from 400 meters away failed to hit the MiG and Dotan continued his pursuit to within 250 meters. A long burst from his cannon and the MiG went down, Dotan breaking westward to locate Lanir and the other Mirages. The Syrian pilot managed to parachute to safety, his aircraft crashing in Jordanian territory.
Lanir, meanwhile, was on the heels of his own opponent. Unlike Dotan, Lanir had jettisoned his underwing fuel tanks and had closed the distance between himself and the fleeing MiG-21 to within 200 meters. He had barely pressed the trigger when the MiG disintegrated into a ball of fire. Lanir's first bullets had apparently hit a fuel tank and the MiG had immediately detonated, without affording Lanir a change to break away. Lanir's Mirage flew right through the fireball created by the destroyed MiG, comprising of burning fuel alone by now and not of any debris, much to Lanir's good fortune (see picture below). The Mirage was scorched black however, including the canopy, effectively blinding its pilot. Escorted by Major Yeshurun, leader of the 119th Sqn. pair, Lanir managed to make his way back to Israel. The soot was soon swept away from the canopy and Lanir was able to bring his aircraft to a landing in Ramat-David AFB.
The two 101st Squadron Mirages flown by Slapak and Shamir had flown a separate patrol route from the other aircraft. Leading the pair, Captain Avner Slapak knew of other Mirages in the air but not of their number nor of their location. Upon spotting four
unidentified aircraft, Slapak turned to his ground control, inquiring whether any enemy aircraft were known to be in his vicinity. Despite receiving a negative answer, Slapak dismissed the possibility that the aircraft were Mirages and begun to give chase. He tried to inform others of his
actions but mistook the right radio frequency and could not get his message across. Soon the four MiGs split into
two pairs, the rear pair turning left and the leading pair right. Slapak begun chasing the rear pair, closing within 500 meters of one of the aircraft when he saw another Mirage descend on him from above! breaking away, Slapak went after the other MiG when once again the other Mirage got in his way. Despite his protests on the radio, he saw the other fighter open fire and down the MiG. As it turned out, Slapak had gone in after the same pair Lanir and Dotan had engaged, the interfering Mirage being none other than Dotan's.
Breaking away, Slapak suddenly noticed another MiG closing in on a Mirage, later identified once again as Dotan's. Having gone in after the MiG, Slapak was infuriated to see the other Mirage return to engage the MiG, getting in his way again. Descending lower to avoid a collision, Slapak engaged his afterburner and broke ahead of Dotan. Closing to within 250 meters, he fired his cannons and soon saw a number of small explosions rock the MiG, before a huge explosion totally destroyed the fighter. Turning away to team up with Shamir again, Slapak spotted a parachute descending away from the wreckage, and then the empty MiG crashing into the ground. Of the four MiG-21s, only one managed to make it back to Dumayr, all three others falling inside Jordan.