The IAF shows interest in a new plane: the F-16
Heyl Ha'avir evinced interest in the F-16 when it was just in its early development stages. The new plane's advantages were not lost upon the IAF top brass, who intended for the F-16 to become the IAF's first-line fighter in the early 1980's. The initial contacts regarding purchase of the plane were held in September of 1975. Following a meeting in the Pentagon between the Israeli Minister of Defense, Shim'on Peres, and his American counterpart, James Schlesinger, the US expressed its agreement, in principle, to supply Israel with 100 planes. Israel was not content with receiving ready made planes, and asked for a license to manufacture key parts of the plane in Israel, or even to fully assemble it in Israel. This request met heated opposition in the American administration. The US contended that Israel had, in the past, made use of American technology for independent production of weapons, in a way that hurt American export interests.
The IAF Commander, General Benny Peled, visited the US in August of 1976, and received a full briefing about the F-16 from a team of senior USAF officers. In the end, a request was filed for purchasing the planes regardless of the production license issue, and the US agreed to sell Israel 250 planes. In 1975 this number was scaled down to 150, because the US refused to set up an assembly line in Israel. In the end, the IAF received 75 planes.
The deal is done
On February 14th 1978 the US announced a package deal for selling arms to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which included the sale of 75 F-16's and F-15s to Israel in return for $1.9 billion. Israel was scheduled to receive the planes in mid-1981. Following the Shah's downfall and the rise of the Khomeini regime in Iran, the supply of 160 F-16's to Iran was canceled, and the Americans offered the Israelis their planes months before schedule.
The first four F-16's - two single seat A models and two tandem seat B models - landed in Israel on July 2nd 1980, and received a ceremonial welcome in an IAF base in northern Israel. The planes had been flown in to Israel in a flight that lasted 11 hours, with American pilots at the controls. They had been accompanied by a Phantom, and had carried out several midair refuelings. In Israel they were given the Hebrew name 'Netz'.
The first kill - and Osirak
In April of 1981 the F-16 accomplished its first kill ever, when Maj. Raz's plane shot down a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter. Later that day another F-16 shot down yet another Mi-8. On July 14th of that year the first fighter was shot down: Amir Nahumi, commander of the F-16 Squadron, shot down a Syrian MiG-21 in a dogfight.
About a year after the arrival of the first F-16's, on June 7th 1981, a flight of eight F-16's, escorted by six F-15s, attacked the Iraqi nuclear plant 'Osirak' a short time before it was to become operational. This operation - code named 'Opera' - temporarily removed the Iraqi nuclear threat.
'Peace for the Galilee', and a new arms deal
On the 4th day of the 'Peace for the Galilee' campaign, on July 9th 1982, F-16's participated in the destruction of Syria's SAM's in the Lebanese Beka'a Valley. Israel's F-16's shot down about 40 Syrian fighters in the course of the war - most of them during the operation against the SAM's.
In the months that preceded 'Peace for the Galilee', the F-16's had shot down five Syrian fighters: three MiG-21's and two MiG-23's. It was during this time that negotiations began for the purchase of 75 more F-16 C and D models, but this was postponed because of the war in Lebanon, and was only finalized in August of 1983. The $3 billion deal was the largest-scale arms purchase Israel had ever carried out. It included a commitment by General Dynamics, the American manufacturer of the F-16, to carry out reciprocal purchases totalling $300 million in Israel. These purchases included deals with private Israeli companies as well as production orders from the IAI and from Israel's Military Industry.
The first three F-16C's arrived on February 9th 1987, flown by American pilots. They landed at an IAF base in northern Israel and were given the Hebrew name 'Barak'.
The F-16 C/D models have several conspicuous improvements that differentiate them from the A/B models. They have more powerful engine with greater static thrust, as well as improved radar, an advanced cockpit with two multi-function displays (MFD's) and a holographic wide angle heads-up display (HUD), a stronger airframe affording greater payload carry capacity, improved electronic warfare (EW), 'fly-by-wire' controls and advanced weapons systems, night flight and night fighting systems as well as other avionics.
A squadron is born
A new F-16 squadron was established on August 1st 1994, and was equipped by 50 F-16 A/B planes that Israel received from the USAF surplus. A special IAF team had tested and picked the planes, some of which had participated in Desert Storm. The F-16's, all of which were at least 10 years old, were rigorously tested upon their arrival in Israel, fully disassembled and only reassembled after all their parts had been evaluated. They then underwent improvement, which mostly meant engine upgrades and retrofitting of unique IAF systems. After being absorbed in the squadron, they underwent another series of test flights and weapons tests.
A year after they equipped the squadron, the planes had their first day in battle, in the ranks of the IAF: the
F-16's carried out attack sorties against several targets manned by Ahmed Jibril's men, around Nu'eimeh and Damur in Southern Lebanon.
'Grapes of Wrath': F-16's over Beirut
In Operation 'Grapes of Wrath' (1996) the IDF and its air arm, Heyl Ha'avir, targeted terrorists in Southern Lebanon, with the purpose of halting 'Katyusha' rocket fire against Israeli civilians in the northern Galilee. In the course of the operation, the IAF's new F-16 squadron attacked Beirut's electrical power plant. The mission was to hit only specific sections of the plant, plunging parts of Beirut into darkness, in retaliation for the Katyushas which had caused a power outage in Kiryat Shmonah the previous day. This was the first time since 'Peace for the Galilee' that the IAF operated in Beirut.