During the war of attrition, Egypt had difficulty dealing with the Israeli Air Force, which attacked within its territory; Phantoms and skyhawks crossed Sinai leisurely, bombing anti-aircraft infrastructure, reconnaissance, weapons depots and more – in response to Egyptian artillery fire on the canal outposts line. The Egyptian government, whose pride was trampled to the ground during the Six Day War, turned to the USSR for help.
And the good news came: In January 1970, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser returned from a visit to Moscow with a huge smile under his mustache: the Soviets agreed to help him directly – and to send elite military forces to help cut off the Israeli Air Force’s wings.
The aid was top secret, but revealed due to the sheer size and excellent work of the Air Force and Armed Forces Intelligence Squadron. Thousands of Soviet soldiers arrived in Egypt, along with advanced S75 missile batteries (better known as SA2) and a number of 21MF MiG squadrons.
The Soviets did not do it out of kindness: it was a golden opportunity to test their capabilities on the ground against the American equipment that Israel had received. Nor did they happily do so. In fact, the USSR was very angry with the Egyptians; it provided them with modern and advanced fighter jets, assisted them with training and coaching – and found it difficult to understand how it was possible that time and time again Israel was defeated in the air.
While senior Russian officials maintained a diplomatic face, officers who were in constant contact with the Egyptian Air Force simply looked straight ahead and claimed that Egypt had lousy pilots. It was a terrible insult that caused the Egyptian army to despise its Soviet patrons. For the most part, fighter pilots behave modestly, knowing how horrible and chaotic war in the air is. But according to testimonies from Egypt, Soviet pilots believed they had the power to succeed where the locals failed – and to strike at these rude Israelis.
Russian arrogance was expressed on the ground: the missile batteries fired at Air Force planes and were even transferred to the front, where they could threaten our forces at a greater range.
In her wisdom, Prime Minister Golda Meir realized that there was an international crisis here that could easily ignite World War III; The U.S. attacked Vietnam and suffered domestic protests, in part because the public had a hard time figuring out what its military had to look for in a jungle in Southeast Asia. However, a Soviet entry into the Middle East, so close to Europe, is something much easier to communicate and create. National cohesion The road to nuclear war seems shorter than ever.
What did Golda do? Ordered the IDF not to mess with the Russians, despite their provocations. What did the Russians do? They said, “Yeah, what a beauty.”Repo The provocations: MiG-21s even chased Israeli attack planes into its territory, and the Air Force’s listening unit reported that the Soviets were expressing dizzying self-confidence.
In their eyes, Israel is simply afraid to come close. Having no choice, Golda ordered retaliation. And not just one, but an operation that will make the Russians understand who they are dealing with. And not just an operation, but one of the most sophisticated aerial ambushes ever made.
Wait, what’s an air ambush anyway? In a world where there are radars, what are fighter jets supposed to do, hide behind a cloud? Well, an aerial ambush is a very complicated combat tactic that relies on the radars themselves, and requires a lot of intelligence, technological capabilities and amazing pilots. The IDF had all of these in stock, and Operation Grenade 20 was launched.
July 30, 1970 began as another normal day for the operators of the detection system in Egypt, Soviet and local alike: small dots appeared on the screens, and began to advance from the Israeli Sinai towards the Suez Canal. The pace of movement and altitude showed a pattern that is easy to identify – a structure of Israeli attack aircraft, probably a Skyhawk model, which is on its way to attack artillery batteries in Egyptian territory. Behind them appeared two more points, faster: a pair of Eagle planes, which would photograph the targets for the purpose of assessing the damage of the attack.
What’s used to it? Well, such attacks took place about once a week or two, and here was a Soviet opportunity to show these Israelis who the landlord was. The Russian forces launched two MiG-21MF structures – one for the attack planes and the other for the photo planes, to capture the light targets.
And as the Migs approached, three very surprising things happened: the first is that the two photo planes were actually four; They flew in an outline that suited a photo mission, but were so close to each other that in radar they looked like a pair.
The second is that while the attack planes flew at the speed, altitude, and shape of Skyhawks, they were actually powerful phantoms loaded with air-to-air missiles. And their pilots opened the rear burner, quickly climbed to great heights and then dived towards the Migs.
The third is that another quartet of mirages, which escaped the ground radar thanks to electronic warfare, popped up because and quickly reduced distance. But the biggest surprise was not at all related to fighter jets, but to a chubby and slow plane sailing far away.
It was an oversized stratocruiser, on a special mission: aboard communications systems and members of the ISRA’s “Crochet” unit, which specialized in eavesdropping and deciphering Soviet activity in the Middle East. In front of them, and where. In addition, the Air Force reported exactly when enemy planes take off.
Soviet pilots found themselves surrounded from all directions, and masking contact did not allow them to get guidance from the ground – their preferred method of work. Ground control officers were in a panic; Where did their planes go? Why does no one answer? Is it possible that Israel has already cut everyone short? A dizzying air battle was about to begin.
The sky was full of planes: 14 phantoms and mirages, and in front of them 24 Migs – some of the buildings that fell into the trap, and others that were launched to reinforce them.
The battle itself was short and brutal: five Soviet Migs were harvested with Mirage cannons or Phantom missiles, and only three of the pilots survived the attack and were abandoned. One Mirage was hit by a Russian missile, but managed to return safely to base. More Migs that bounced as reinforcements found no targets and simply wandered lost in the sky.
The victory was absolute, and the survivors of the battle returned to bases in Egypt stunned and frightened. No pilot had any idea how the Israelis managed to appear out of nowhere, and no general had an explanation. After consulting with Moscow, Pavel Kutahov, the commander of the Red Air Force, arrived on the scene, saw the rush and immediately ordered his pilots to keep the battle and its results secret.
Eight years later, Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Sa’ad al-Shadli published his book, “Crossing the Canal.” It read the Egyptian side of this story: The Egyptians were happy about the Soviet defeat; yes, they too were discriminated against, their detection systems failed and they Shocked no less than the Russians.
But Soviet pilots stopped belittling them, realizing that the Israeli enemy was either too smart, or too crazy, or both.
Since Operation Grenade 20, the Russians have stopped teasing the Israeli Air Force, realizing that this arena is too explosive and it is better not to intervene directly in it. In the following years, the Expeditionary Force shrank, leaving only advisory teams – teams that left the Middle East on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.
What scared the Egyptians so much? They lost six planes (one of which fell in an accident on its way to landing) – not a strategic asset for a power holding thousands of MiGs, and could equally well have launched fifty or more planes next time. And the deception of our forces has worked on them – but it is doubtful whether it will work again; It was based on a specific communication network, which after the break-in was exposed to it, was replaced.
No, the reason lies in what the eavesdropping teams did: if they managed to break into a classified communications network to a level that allowed mistakes within it, there is no doubt that these Israelis have access to a lot of sensitive intelligence. And who knows if the hacked network is one in two, one in five or one in twenty already monitored by the IDF. How long have they been monitored? In what method? If the Israelis sacrificed the specific network they used, is it negligible for them? Maybe they have access to really dangerous networks ?
And the Russians feared that this information would be passed on to the United States, which could implement it on a global scale, which would require them to replace all their military communications theory – and limit the USSR’s ability to demonstrate power, and operate its military effectively. IDF pilots are good, even excellent – but IDF intelligence is simply monstrous. And when you operate near such intelligence infrastructures, you endanger yourself everywhere.
Bottom line, Operation Grenade 20 was crowned a dizzying success, and could have prevented a very dangerous war at the cost of just six MiGs. Today, the Russians are in the Middle East for other reasons, and try to avoid incidents with the Israeli Air Force (I will tell you about the risks that arise from this another time). Pleasant flight!