The 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza may signal the end of Israel’s Operation “Protective Edge” – or it may just be a break in the intensive fighting, in which the Israeli air force (IAF) has had a crucial role.
Over the last 30 days the IAF has been strained to almost its limit. In-flight refuelling enabled the air force’s Boeing F-15s and Lockheed Martin F-16s to be utilised to the maximum, and ground crews shortened the time between missions used to rearm.
With hundreds of air strikes launched every day in the month since Protective Edge began, the IAF was even forced to expedite the return to service of an F-16D damaged in an accident.
On January 2 2013, the F-16D took off for a routine training flight. While it approached the runway at Ramat David air base, the two crew members were alerted to a technical malfunction in one of the wheels. The pair decided to eject from the aircraft, which was flying at 216kt (400km/h). The fighter eventually stopped at the end of the airstrip.
The pilot and weapons systems officer left the plane unharmed, but one of the wings, its undercarriage and other parts of the aircraft were damaged.
The aircraft was transferred to aerial maintenance unit 22 at Tel Nof air base, which specialises in the restoration of aircraft after accidents.
“Flying the F-16D would have seemed like a dream a few months ago, but today it conducted an airstrike in the Gaza Strip,” says Col Nir Barkan, commander of Ramat David airbase
The aircraft was supposed to be delivered to “Valley” squadron in a few weeks time, but Protective Edge began and the delivery of the fighter was moved up.