The Blue Bird legend
It was a bold Mossad operation that changed the balance of power in the region: in 1966, an Iraqi fighter pilot flew a Mig-21 jet to Israel, enabling Israel and the US to study and test the Russian-made aircraft for the first time. New film reveals almost all details related to affair
On the morning of Tuesday, August 16, 1966, the impossible happened. A Mig-21 jet plane, the flagship of Soviet industry and the most advanced aircraft in use by the Arab armies at the time, landed at the Israel Air Force base in Hatzor.
For the West, this was a dream come true. The Mig-21 was considered the number one fighter plane during the Cold War, and the United States had no clue as to how it was built, what its weaknesses were and what weapons should be developed against it.
Captain Munir Redfa, the Iraqi fighter pilot who flew the jet to Israel, said that he decided to defect to the West because of the remorse and guilt he felt over attacking Kurdish villages with napalm bombs.
But Redfa's defection was not spontaneous, but rather the result of a comprehensive and bold Mossad-initiated operation, which was named "The Blue Bird – Operation Diamond," and which ended a 20-year long US arms embargo on Israel.
A new movie produced by the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IICC) and Channel 1, directed by Shmuel Imberman, reveals almost all the details related to this heroic operation.
According to the film, the idea to try and obtain a Mig-21 was first raised in 1965, when then IAF commander Ezer Weizman asked Meir Amit, who was head of the Mossad at the time, "Get me a Mig-21." Rehavia Vardi, who died last year, was appointed to command the operation.
The Mossad knew that Egypt had 34 Mig-21 jets, Syria had 18 and Iraq had 10. In Iraq, the organization had a contact, Yosef Shemesh, a Jewish businessman who worked as a Mossad collaborator and who was involved in an intimate relationship with the sister-in-law of Redfa, an Iraqi Air Force pilot.
After learning that Redfa was frustrated by his failure to get a promotion in the Iraqi army due to his Christian origin, and that he was excited about life in the West following a visit to the US as part of a military training course, Shemesh put the pilot in touch with the Mossad.
Redfa managed to leave Iraq for a trip to Rome, where he met with an IAF pilot, who flew with him to Israel. Redfa stayed in Israel for three days, during which he got to fly an IAF plane with the IAF intelligence chief at the time, Colonel Shayke Barkat. The movie exposes never seen-before photos of Redfa from the visit, which were taken without his knowledge in order to be used as means to pressure him should he change his mind and decide not to defect.
Then Prime Minister Levy Eshkol was only informed of the plan about a month before the operation was due, and after all of Redfa's family had been taken out of Iraq.
After a month in Israel, the Mig-21 was transferred to the American Air Force for testing and intelligence analysis. Thanks to this Israeli "gift," Israel was finally able to replace its French Vautour and Mirage jets with the excellent US-made Phantoms.
A year later, during the Six Day War, Israeli fighter jets succeeded in shooting down dozens of Mig-21 jets in air battles, owing to the knowledge obtained from the analysis of the Iraqi Mig-21.
After it was retuned from the US, the Mig-21 was transferred to the IAF museum in Hatezrin, near Be'er Sheva, where it stands to this day.
The Iraqi pilot, Redfa, and his family, left Israel after a short stay and were moved to another western country, where Redfa died of a heart attack about nine years ago.