Saturday, 14 November 2015

Operation Diamond : How Mossad stole an Iraqi MiG 21

Back in the year 1959, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21was put to production. It was considered the most advanced and sophisticated soviet jetcraft at that time. Israel's bete noire Iraq, Syria and Egypt received many of these jets that were to the envy of many of those jets Israel received from the US. As a result, the US and Israel set out on a joint mission to retrieve one such MiG 21 from one of these Middle Eastern benefactors. What ensued was the most exhilarating purloin to be ever committed in mid air. 

First, a Mossad agent in Egypt made a valorous attempt of defecting an Egyptian pilot to fly one of these MiGs to Israel. He was offered a whopping million dollars back in 1962. However, the plan was foiled and the lead Mossad agent and his team were arraigned for espionage and given heavy terms. Another opportunity came up in the year 1964, and in not a very distant Iraq. 

An Iraqi Jew contacted Israel's services in Tehran and informed them of a certain Munir Refda. Refda was the husband of a friend of his girlfriend, and an extremely frustrated and flustered Iraqi. But most importantly, he was an Iraqi pilot. Refda had christian roots and hence was never treated at par with his Muslim counterparts. It was his modicum of christian provenance that prevented him from soaring among the ranks as he was never allowed to fly with full tanks and hence he was only able to prove his prowess over shorter distances. Moreover, his anger was buttressed by him being forced to attack Iraqi Kurds. Hence Mossad sensed this as a perfect opportunity and sent a female katsa to befriend him.

In a typical ensnaring operation, the female found a lot about Refda's life. His family lived far away in Baghdad, and he showed clear intent of leaving the country if a safe passage could be ensured for his family and if he could feel sanguine about his future prospects. So Mossad made its move and implored Refda to visit Europe to strike a deal. 

The deal was carried out under the direct supervision of Meir Amit, the first and foremost director general of Mossad, and went brilliantly. Refda was assured of everything he wanted and a million dollars. A large team of agents was sent to Baghdad and his family was brought to Israel. Finally, everyone started waiting for an opportunity to sneak out the cynosure of jetcrafts - the MiG 21, out of the Iraqi airspace. 

On August 16, 1966, the moment finally arrived. Refda was flying his MiG 21 over the Jordanian airspace. The authorities grew conscious and sent out multiple messages to nearby ATCs. While Iraq didn't respond, and this jeopardized Refda and his aircraft with impending conflagration from Jordan's emphatic anti aircraft systems. Much to everyone's surprise, Syria claimed responsibility for the aircraft and mentioned that it was on a training mission. The MiG finally crossed the Jordanian airspace and entered that of Israel where it was welcomed by a small but powerful armada of Dassault Mirage IIIs, which took it to the final destination. 

In the later years, the priced possession of the Israeli air forces, the MiG was flied, dismantled and thoroughly analyzed. In fact the analysis helped Israel devise a prolific strategy on how to counter the MiGs in combats with its own Dassault Mirage IIIs. And in the war with Syria, the Israeli air force vanquished 6 MiGs with their own Mirage IIIs getting away unscathed. The aircraft was later passed on to the US which was desperate to get its hands on this enigmatic and recondite flying machine, and in effect destroying the MiG's cabalistic properties it so proudly adorned and adulated. 

"Hatzerim 201206 MiG21" by Oren Rozen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -
The MiG 21 at the Israel Air Force Museum. It was renamed 007 to commemorate the spectacular way in which it was acquired.

The heist in the mid air provided Israel with a massive bargaining chip with the US because of the latter's interest in the MiG architecture and technology, and also established both Mossad and Israel as a rather cataclysmic force to reckon with. Mossad was soon on its way of developing the reputation it commands today. 

This article is a series of articles, all intended to outline some of the bravest feats Mossad has pulled off. For more, please visit the following links.

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