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Operation Peace for the Galilee

Now a successful businessman at the forefront of the algorithmic trading revolution, Eddie Shapiro was once an Israeli fighter pilot. This is an extract from his autobiography.

After being grounded because of my injury caused by my head-on collision in a Mirage, the Air Force chief surgeon warned me that I'd become a paraplegic if I ejected again. Since I was unable to be a fighter pilot, I was offered re-training on transport planes.I was devastated by the flying restriction, so I decided to get out of uniform and on with my life.But there was a problem. I had signed a seven-year contract that the Air Force intended me to honor.I decided against transport planes and was assigned to Air Force Intelligence until the end of my contractual period.

As head of the Syrian Air Force Research Desk I felt it was a come-down for a hot-shot fighter pilot!My new Commander patiently listened when I requested he release me from duty, because I lacked motivation to become what I termed, a 'pen and paper pusher.'After my well-composed, presentation, in which I sometimes gave vent to my frustrations, the Commander calmly said, "Give it a chance."

I remained in uniform and it wasn't so bad.There were many beautiful girl soldiers at Headquarters.Every night I got to sleep at home in my own apartment, which I shared with twoclose friends.Since much was happening in the early 1980's in the Middle East, I found the job more interesting than I had thought it would be.

In less than six months into my new career my fighter pilot days were a dim memory. I often traveled to various fighter squadrons to present Intelligence's view regarding the Syrian Air Force. Once I felt no twinge of envy at seeing the young fighter jocks in their G-suits, I knew that my Zelig-like transformation was complete. I was enjoying my new role and felt special because it was the first time that my position was being manned by an ex-fighter pilot. This gave me more insight into understanding the mind-sets of the enemy pilots. It gave me confidence that our intelligence assessments were accurate.

Intelligence is a fascinating occupation. It's secretive, dangerous and full of mystery. It's no wonder so many books and movies have been made from the raw material it provides. Some of it is true and much imagined. In real life, as in most other professions, it is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. I was fortunate to be in the hot seat during an extremely interesting period in history. Like the movie character Zelig, I felt comfortable in my role, confident in my assessments and swept up in the overall feeling of anticipation of plans being implemented by the upper echelons of the Air Force.

This was highlighted when on June 8, 1981 I entered my office in Air Force headquarters. There I was greeted by the sight of my colleagues huddled together in animated conversation. The Israeli Air Force had just destroyed the Iraqi Osirak Nuclear Reactor site, south of Baghdad. This was a tremendous boost to Israel's morale and feeling of security. It proved that the long arm of Israel's Defense Forces was capable of striking its enemies even at a distance of 1,100 kilometers. I was not involved in the planning of this attack. My colleagues across the hall were – the Iraq and Iran Department. Despite this one incidence of compartmentalization, we were part of a close-knit team and it gave us and our work a greater sense of importance.

1982

FEBRUARY 1982: JUNIEH HARBOR, NORTH OF BEIRUT – four months before the first Lebanese War. IAF Chief of Enemy Weapons Research (left), IAF Chief of Operations Maj. Gen. Zvi Kantor center) and Captain Eddie Shapiro (right). The trio flew into Lebanon. The two senior officers went to retrieve the first MiG23 L shot down and retrieved by Israel or the U.S. and was expected to be a treasure trove for Israeli Intelligence. Eddie Shapiro was sent to interrogate the Syrian pilot who was captured by the Christian Phalanges, under Bashir Gemayel.

The First Lebanese War or as we called it, 'Operation Peace for the Galilee', broke out on schedule.I, however, was not privy to the plan.Every Israeli was aware of our keen interest in resolving the Palestinian terror problem. It was coming from the Palestinian refugee camps south of Beirut. They were shelling the border cities of KiryatShemona, Nahariya, Ma'a lot, and Safed. Kiryat Shemona became a ghost town. Most residents evacuated to safer quarters.In one day every window in this city of 13,000 was broken by concussions and shrapnel from a rain of Katyusha rockets.The glazers of Haifa united, volunteered, and replaced every window in the town.The following week they were destroyed again.Similar situations occurred in the other cities mentioned. Civilians were killed and wounded. I expected our response would take the form of limited attacks across the border; something similar to the Litani Operation in 1978. But, the powers that be decided on a full-scale invasion.My decommissioning was scheduled for the second week of July, 1982. My mood turned sour when ordered to HQ and informed that the Army was preparing an invasion into Lebanon on the morrow.My decommissioning was put on hold until further notice.

After recovering from the initial shock, I set about my assigned task with enthusiasm.As a fighter pilot, my contribution to the defense of our nation was minimal. I had never been in air-to-air combat with the enemy. During the Litani Operation I had not participated in ground attacks. I was a rookie then and was assigned to mid-air refueling missions (as the tanker aircraft) for the A-4s bombing the terrorist camps. But, in my one and a half years at Air Force Intelligence, in all modesty, the work I did contributed enormously to the successful outcome of the air war against the Syrian Air Force.The results: 120 downed MIG's to Israel's zero losses.

How this occurred was the product of classic intelligence work by our team at the Syrian Air Force Desk and excellent execution by our pilots, who stuck rigorously to the plan we and the Operations Division drew up.

Early in 1982 I was alerted to reports from Mossad of MIG-23s taking off from Dumayer Air Base inside Syria.However, our radar never picked them up after they departed that airfield. We had no idea where they were flying to, or what their mission was.Days later, I noticed several Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) reports indicating MIG-23s suddenly showing up over the coastal plains of Lebanon. Their appearance was unexplained. Our SIGINT units monitor any kind of signal emitted by the enemy. We pluck radio, radar, Doppler (used in navigation and altitude measuring instruments), electromagnetic (emitted by radar guided missiles) signals, etc. from the air, like apples from a tree. Each signal can be immediately associated and classified to a specific missile or aircraft.When we compared and contrasted the dates and times of the first Mossad reports (the take-offs) and the appearance of MIGs over Lebanese skies, it immediately became apparent they were the same MIG-23s.We had solved part of the mystery.The Syrian MIGs were taking off from Dumayer Air Base which was especially chosen so the planes could enter Lebanon via a natural geographic corridor.A deep valley penetrated the high mountains enablingSyrian pilots to fly into Lebanon undetected by our radar.

What was their objective?Why would they go to so much trouble to patrol and control that area of Lebanon? It did not take much thought to realize their objective. They wanted to intercept our slower attack aircraft making bombing runs over the Palestinian terrorist training camps along the coastal plains of Lebanon. We had done this during the Litani Operation and from time to time as reprisals for the Katyusha-rocket barrages which the Palestinians rained down on our northern towns.

By calculating the difference in the time they were spotted over Lebanon and the time of their reported take-off from Dumayer in Syria, we knew exactly how long it took them to complete the run-in for their planned intercept.

When I presented this valuable insight to Operations Division, Yoav Stern's team were able to devise a plan to surprise the super-sonic MIG-23s we knew would be sent to intercept our slower, sub-sonic A-4 bombers.We had cross-referenced our information and concluded that the Syrians knew we were using A-4s to execute bomb runs on the armed terrorist camps south of Beirut.

At the same time that we and Air Ops were planning the air war, other teams worked day and night planning to destroy the Syrian SAM batteries (Surface to Air Missiles). They posed the most serious threat to our air superiority over the Beka'a Valley in east Lebanon.

The Syrians stationed tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon. But, they never moved their missile batteries there.These Russian missiles were kept on the Syrian side of the Lebanese border to protect Syrian airspace and act as a deterrent against attacks on their troops positioned in the Lebanese Beka'a Valley.There were few Syrian soldiers on the coastal plains.Syria also knew that Israel's red line was the SAMs in Lebanon.We tolerated Syrian troops there because to a degree they controlled the PLO terrorists who ran rife in the refugee camps.Positioning the Syrian SAMs in Lebanon would be considered an overt act of war on Israel. Itwould not be tolerated.

The plan Air Ops devised to counter the MIG-23s' interception of our A-4s was simple, yet brilliant. The A-4s would be shadowed by F-16s armed with air-to-air missiles.The F-16s were instructed to fly low over the sea, out of sight of Syrian radar.We were certain the MIG-23s would attempt to intercept the A-4s at low level through the access corridor over the Beka'a Valley.That is what they practiced and it is what they actually did during the war.Because we knew the time it took the Syrians to make the journey, and we knew their exact take-off times, we could inform our Air Force Commander of the precise moment they would show up for the intercept of our slow-flying bombers.

Several minutes before the intercept, General Ivry, who at the start of the war was personally sitting at the Command Post, instructed the A-4s to cease their bombing runs and drop down to sea level.He then instructed the F-16s to arise from under the Syrian radar, take the places of the A-4s and simulate the A-4s' bombing pattern.When the unwitting MIGs popped up to make the intercept, they expected to find slow-moving sub-sonic A-4s burdened with bombs and no protection against air attack.Imagine their shock at finding themselves facing our F-16s instead, equipped with the most sophisticated air-to-air missiles in the world.The MIGs never had a chance.And they continued making the same mistakes day after day until almost half of the Syrian aircraft inventory was wiped out.Every day I'd receive a report of the number of MIGs shot down, and read off the names of our pilots, some of them from my old squadron, and the number of each one's kills.I couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy.But, I also felt proud of us 'paper pushers.'

The final score was 120 downed MIGs.Not one Israeli plane was lost in the air battle. Several of them were lost to SAM missiles, one of them being the F-4 of Ron Arad, who to this day is suspected of having been transferred by the Lebanese to the Iranians and probably killed by them.

The air war was going so well that I found myself out of a job.I heard of a team from the Enemy Weapons Research Desk going into Lebanon to retrieve carcasses of downed MIGs, and volunteered to join them.I sat up-front with a Major who was driving a jeep.We were leading an assortment of heavy-hauling vehicles.We heard bombs in the distance. Tanks were around us grinding their way forward to the battle-front. Thousands of Lebanese were being killed and our soldiers were locked in fierce tank battles with the Syrians and house-to-house battles with Palestinian terrorists.The endless misery of the local population was horrific.

But the sun was shining, I was riding in an open jeep, birds were singing, I felt good about life, and indestructible.I was 25 years old. It was war and it was exciting.

Three incidents from that trip are etched in my memory:the first is of a young girl picking cherries and selling them to our soldiers moving into battle.I asked the Major to pull over and hopped outto buy some.Suddenly, the little girl shoved the bag in my hand, refused to take my money and ran away.I looked back.Right behind and above me was the muzzle of 105 mm gun from a Merkava tank. It was pointing right into the face of the poor girl.No wonder she got the fright of her life.I left the money protruding from under a rock, took the cherries and jumped back into the jeep.

The second incident was visiting a family whose house had been destroyed by a MIG-23 L.We shot the plane down and the pilot ejected, but the aircraft managed to glide a fair distance before it came to its final stop in the second story bedroom of this poor family's home.Luckily, no one in the family was seriously hurt.They were sitting on the far side of the house when the MIG struck, and received only light burns from the exploding gas tanks and bombs.Our medics treated the family.But they had lost all their material possessions.Not a single object remained unscarred in the house.

Later when I got home, I collected a large pile of clothes, which I intended to give to them when I returned.As it turned out, I never went back to Lebanon.

The third incident occurred on the way back to Israel.Our trucks were loaded with scavenged MIG aircraft parts and weapons systems.We stopped at a Lebanese restaurant on the shore of Lake Kar'oun for our first cooked meal during that trip.The place was enormous, able to seat hundreds of people.It was empty.The proprietor served us freshly caught fish from the lake and we struck up a conversation with him.He confessed that in his heart of hearts he dreamed that everyone would stop fighting so that Beirut could go back to being the Paris of the Middle East and all of Lebanon being like France.He predicted that once the Syrians were thrown out, this would happen.He prayed to Allah that we Israelis would get out of there too.

Years after Israel and the Syrians left Lebanon and decades after that incident, nothing has changed in that tortured country.Then it was Amal and the Palestinians who caused most of thetrouble.Now it's Hezbollah (which didn't exist in 1982).And tomorrow it will be… who knows?Sadly, for my gracious host, the restaurateur on Lake Kar'oun, I predict that in both our lifetimes the strife in his country will not be resolved and his fine restaurant will remain empty.

Eddie Shapiro's autobiography, "Living at Twice the Speed of Sound", is available on Amazon:

In Paperback​ :Living At Twice the Speed of Sound: Eitan 'Eddie' Shapiro: 

Living At Twice the Speed of Sound [Eitan 'Eddie' Shapiro] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. If you read the Best Seller, Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer then you must read Living at Twice the Speed of Sound . Eitan (Eddie) Shapiro gives you a sharply focused view of through this narrative memoir. He trains for war
 

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