If there was ever a story making the Iraqi Air Force of the 1960s ‘famous’ in the West, and tarnishing its image ever since, then it is the one of a — supposed — ‘defection’ by one of its MiG-21 pilots to Israel on Aug. 12, 1966.
If there was ever a story making the Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) of the 1960s ‘famous’ in the West, and tarnishing its image ever since, then it is the one of a — supposed — ‘defection’ by one of its MiG-21 pilots to Israel on Aug. 12, 1966. Widely publicised ever since, the Israeli version of the story emphasises a ‘mistreated Christian pilot’, ‘ignored by superiors and never promoted’, ‘disgruntled with his participation in bombing of the Kurds’, making his own decision to flee, and then the donation of his aircraft to the US for studies when the US Air Force (USAF) needed it the most — at the high point of the Vietnam War. To call all such reports as anything other than propaganda would be understatement.
Dating back to the late 1950s, all the efforts of the Israeli foreign intelligence service, Mossad (`the Institute’) to convince various Egyptian pilots to defect to Israel with one of their `MiGs’ had failed. As told by Milos Sipos and Tom Cooper in their book Wings of Iraq Volume 1: The Iraqi Air Force, 1931-1970, a new opportunity offered itself in 1965, when a group of Iraqi pilots was sent for a staff course at Randolph Air Force Base (AFB) in the US. Deploying a group of female agents, Mossad attempted to recruit several of them — all without success: Lieutenant Hamid Dhahee was the first to turn down the Israeli offer. He was murdered in a bar in Lackland, Texas, on Jun. 15, 1965. Seriously concerned about the safety of his students in the US, IrAF Commander Brigadier-General Arif Abd ar-Razzaq then recalled them to Iraq.
However several of the Iraqi pilots came back home followed by attractive ‘lovers’, all Mossad agents. Captain Shaker Mahmoud Yusuf’s ‘girlfriend’ met him in Baghdad on July 1965: when he refused the Israeli offer to defect, he was also murdered. Captain Mohammad Raglob survived only a while longer: he ‘fell out’ of a high-speed trail during a trip to Germany on Feb. 11, 1966. Eventually the Israelis contacted Captain Munir Habib Jamil Redfa (or ‘Ruefa’), now the deputy commander of the re-established No. 11 Squadron. Given the same, ‘silver or lead’ offer as his colleagues before him, Redfa opted for survival. After the Mossad evacuated 17 of his family members to Iran, he took off from Taqqaddum AB, on Aug. 12, 1966, and flew a MiG-21F-13 to Israel.
The Israeli donation of that MiG to the USA, a few years later, contributed relatively little to the American knowledge about the type. After all, when travelling to Randolph AFB in 1965, the Iraqis had also delivered al the technical and training manuals for the type: an English translation, prepared by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), became available before the end of the same year.
Wings of Iraq Volume 1: The Iraqi Air Force, 1931-1970 is published by Helion & Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Oren Rozen, Own work, via Wikipedia