This Week in Israeli History: IAF Established, 14,500 Ethiopian Jews Airlifted to Israel and Latrun

Pictured: David Ben-Gurion with Modi Alon (center). Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Israeli Air Force Established
After Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, the Egyptian Air Force began a fierce bombing campaign on the newly-formed Jewish state, with Tel-Aviv as its primary target. In response, the Israeli leadership gave the order on May 28, 1948, to establish the Israeli Air Force.
The fledgling air force was comprised of outdated combat planes and civilian aircrafts that were converted for military use, and the vast majority of the pilots were Jewish WWII veterans who volunteered to come help Israel fight for its independence.
The first fighter squadron formed by the IAF was Squadron 101, commanded by Royal Air Force veteran Modi Alon. The squadron achieved the first aerial victory of the IAF after Modi Alon engaged four Egyptian planes that had just bombed Tel Aviv. Although outnumbered four to one, Alon downed two of the four Egyptian planes and chased away the remaining two.
The battle took place in front of the astonished citizens of Tel-Aviv who were unaware that the IDF even had an aerial branch. Alon's victory would be the last time that enemy bombers would to ever fly over Tel-Aviv.
As the war progressed, more and more volunteer pilots continued to arrive in Israel as the IAF expanded its capabilities and acquired new aircrafts. Of the 600 plus IAF servicemen who served in the IAF during the War of Independence, over 400 hundred of them were volunteers from oversees.
Operation Solomon
Operation Solomon was a covert Israeli military operation that brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991. At the time, the regime in Ethiopia was in utter chaos and the civilians were facing an imminent threat from militaristic rebels who sought to overthrow the government. This lack of stability raised large concerns over the well-being of Ethiopian Jews, who had no way of fleeing and immigrating to Israel.
Israel decided to act.
On May 24, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir authorized non-stop flights of El Al planes that transported roughly 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the span of 36 hours, airlifting almost twice the amount of Ethiopian Jews that Operation Moses did 5 years prior.
The operation was kept under strict military censorship until the last of the 34 planes arrived in Israel.
Latrun is a hilltop commanding a strategic position overlooking the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem Road. During the Mandate, the British used an old Ottoman monastery located on the hilltop as a police station and detention facility. At the termination of the Mandate, they handed over this strategic location to the Arab Legion.
The Legionnaires used the fort at Latrun to shell Israeli vehicles traveling on the Tel Aviv - Jerusalem Road, effectively imposing a siege on Jerusalem. The IDF tried on five separate occasions to capture Latrun and to liberate the road, but were unsuccessful. The first attempt was launched on May 24-25, where former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – then a platoon commander – was injured. Latrun was the site of some of the fiercest battles of the War of Independence.
After the War of Independence, Israel was forced to build a new Tel Aviv – Jerusalem road after the Jordanians continuously violated the cease-fire terms and fired on Israeli vehicles. During the Six Day War Israel captured Latrun, which enabled the original Tel Aviv – Jerusalem road to be reopened (known today as Highway 1).
Today, the site is a memorial for the armored and tank corps, as well as an Armored Corps Museum.