In the spring of 1982, Palestinian terrorists entrenched themselves in Southern Lebanon, creating an informal state-within-a-state. From there they dispatched terrorists on murderous missions abroad and fired Katyusha rockets and artillery at civilian targets in Israel’s northern Galilee region. On June 3rd, 1982, Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov was gunned down and critically wounded near his London home. The next day Israeli jets bombed P.L.O. ammunition depots and training bases. This triggered a massive P.L.O. bombardment against Israel’s northern settlements, causing extensive damage and loss of life.
On June 6, the IDF launched Operation Peace for the Galilee with the purpose of removing the threat to Israel’s northern settlements. Israeli units advanced along three major north-south routes, destroying P. L.O. bases and their terrorist infrastructure along the way.
IAF fighters and attack helicopters bombed terrorist strongholds, clearing the way for the ground forces. Transport helicopters provided around-the-clock tactical, logistic support. They airlifted fuel and ammunition to front-line troops when the three narrow roads which wind their way north into Lebanon became clogged. They also played a life-saving role by rapidly evacuating wounded to Israeli hospitals.
But the most spectacular achievement of the war was the destruction of the Syrian surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites in the Beka’a’a Valley. The IAF was equally impressive in air-to-air combat, downing about 90 Syrian Migs without loss.
Future historians will point to many important features of the air war over Lebanon. First and foremost, the IAF re-affirmed its undisputed aerial superiority. This was the first major conflict in which F-15’s and F-16’s could demonstrate their awesome prowess. It was also the first time that the IAF employed the Cobra and Defender attack helicopters on a wide scale. One of the war’s greatest successes was achieved by its smallest participant: the locally produced mini-RPV (remotely piloted vehicle).
These tiny, propeller-driven craft beamed down real-time intelligence to air force and battlefield commanders, giving them a decisive edge in the rapidly unfolding combat arena. Another source of pride for the Israel Aircraft Industry (IAI) was the superb performance of the Kfir fighter bomber. Last but not least, honorable mention will be saved for the F-4 Phantom, which pounded home a reminder that it will be around for quite some time.