On This Day In History
From the IDF website:
Exactly 45 years ago Cpt. Munir Redfa, an Iraqi pilot, defected to Israel with the successful Mossad operation – Operation Diamond in 1966. He arrived in Israel on his MiG-21 aircraft after four years of cooperation with Mossad agents and after making the decision to leave Iraq with his family.
“Our goal was to learn about our enemy, understand our threats and acquire a MiG-21 aircraft,” explained Col. Daniel Shapira Chief IAF Test Pilot at the time. Immediately after receiving the plane, Col. Shapira was required to examine it, learn about it and use it in training as soon as possible.
“While I was learning from Cpt. Redfa, we’ve become true friends,” said Col. Shapira. “He was an incredible person: persistent, intelligent and determined. He never for a second regretted his decision to come here.”
Upon leaving Iraqi territory, Cpt. Redfa was confronted by Iraqi planes who attempted an attack to no avail. “He crossed the designate point on the Dead Sea and successfully reached Hatzor where he safely landed with his family,” explained Col. Shapira.
“Cpt. Redfa told me that his main motive for leaving Iraq was that he feared for his life and the lives of his family while living there,” said Col. Shapira.
Other than Cpt. Munir Redfa, two other pilots defected to Israel. In January 1964 Cpt. Mahmud Abbas Halimi of the Egyptian air force, followed by Cpt. Radfa two years later. In 1989, Maj. Bassam Adal a Syrian pilot arrived in Israel as well and was granted an alternative identity.
Update: More on the defection here.
In 1966 Redfa was a 32-year-old pilot in the Iraqi air force. He was frustrated that his Christian background was blocking prospects of promotion and outraged that he had been ordered to attack Iraqi Kurds. He was beginning to doubt whether he had any future in Iraq.
Joseph Shamash, one of Israel’s top agents in Baghdad, befriended Redfa and his wife Betty and persuaded them to join him on a Greek island holiday during which they were introduced to Liron. They knew him only as Josh.
“Josh can help you to leave Iraq,” Shamash whispered to Redfa.
“When Munir heard what we wanted – to fly his MiG from Iraq to Israel – he almost fainted,” said Liron. “‘My MiG? To Israel? Are you guys out of your minds?’” He pointed out that his tanks carried insufficient fuel to reach Israel and that he would be shot down as soon as he tried to head for the border.
Speaking as a fellow pilot, Liron pulled out a map and showed Redfa that his plan could work. “Finally Munir was convinced,” Liron said, “but by the morning he’d got cold feet.”
Urgent action was required. Mossad consulted Yitzhak Rabin, the army’s chief of staff and future prime minister, who ordered: “Bring him to Israel. Show him where he’ll land and let him fly in one of our jets.”
Redfa was given an Israeli passport in the name of Moshe Miz-rahi and touched down with Liron in Tel Aviv, where he was taken to the airfield where he would land the MiG. Before he left Israel, Redfa asked Liron not to tell his wife anything about the plan. “I’ll prepare the ground,” he promised. But he did not – and it almost derailed the operation.
Back in Baghdad, Redfa was assigned to a long-haul flight and he convinced his ground staff to add an extra fuel tank to his MiG.
Meanwhile, the Israelis arranged for Redfa’s entire family to leave Iraq for their summer holiday. The last to leave were Betty and their two children, aged three and five, who flew to Paris.
When Liron met her there ina Mossad safe house and told her they were about to fly to Israel, she had hysterics. “Forget it!” she screamed. “Israel? Are you mad? And who are you anyway? I’m going straight to the Iraqi embassy.”
“Only then did I realise Munir hadn’t said her a word to her about going to Israel,” said Liron.
Eventually he calmed Betty down, persuaded her not to expose the plot to the authorities, gave her an Israeli passport and got her onto a flight to Tel Aviv. Several hours after they landed, Redfa and his MiG21, escorted by an Israeli Mirage, landed at the airbase.
With Redfa’s help, the Israelis immediately began to unlock the secrets of the Russian plane. Their pilots tested it to its limits. They fought mock dogfights with their Mirages and learnt the tactics needed to beat it.
After the 1967 war, Redfa and his family left Israel. Betty had told her husband that living with the enemy was out of the question. Mossad arranged for them to adopt new identities – as the proprietors of a petrol station in the West.
The MiG was lent to the US, which tested it in the Nevada desert, and it helped develop a new generation of American fighters. In return, for the first time, the US began to supply Israel with modern jets. Redfa died of a heart attack in 1998.