Operation Diamond (Hebrew: מִבְצָע יַהֲלוֹם, Mivtza Yahalom) was an operation undertaken by the Mossad. Its goal was the acquisition of a Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21, the most advanced Soviet fighter plane at that time. The operation began in mid-1963 and ended on August 16, 1966, when an Iraqi Air Force MiG-21, flown by the Iraqi Assyrian defector Munir Redfa, landed at an air base in Israel. Israel and the United States were able to study the design of the plane.
The first two attempts
The first attempt to acquire the aircraft was conducted in Egypt by Mossad agent Jean Thomas. Thomas and his group were ordered to find a pilot, who for $1,000,000 would agree to fly the plane to Israel. However, their first attempt was unsuccessful. The Egyptian pilot they contacted, Adib Hanna, informed the authorities about Thomas' interest in the MiG. Thomas, his father, and three other people were arrested and charged with espionage. Thomas and two others were hanged in December 1962. The other three members of the group received long prison terms. The second attempt also failed. Mossad agents ended up assaulting two Iraqi pilots who refused to cooperate with them, in order to keep them quiet for some time.
In 1964 an Iraqi born Jew, Yusuf, contacted Israeli services in Tehran, at a time when Israel and Iran still had diplomatic relations, and Western Europe. Since he was 10 years old, Yusuf had worked as a servant for a Maronite Christian family. His girlfriend's friend was married to an Iraqi pilot named Munir Redfa. Redfa was annoyed that his Christian roots prevented his promotion in the military. He was also upset that he had been ordered to attack Iraqi Kurds. Yusuf understood that Redfa was ready to leave Iraq.
A female Mossad agent befriended Redfa. He told her that he was forced to live far away from his family in Baghdad, he was not trusted by his commanders, and allowed to fly only with small fuel tanks because of his Christianity. He also expressed his admiration towards Israelis, "few against so many Muslims". Redfa was persuaded to travel to Europe to meet with Israeli agents. Meir Amit himself observed the meeting between Redfa and an intelligence officer, using a peep-hole. Redfa was offered $1 million, Israeli citizenship, and full-time employment. Redfa's conditions about smuggling all his relatives out of Iraq were accepted. Later Redfa traveled to Israel to see the airfield he was going to use to land the plane. He also met with the commander of Israeli Air Force, Major General Mordechai "Mottie" Hod. They discussed the dangerous flight and its path.
Numerous Mossad agents were sent to Iraq to assist the transfer of Redfa's wife Betty, their two children aged three and five, his parents and a number of other family members out of the country. Betty and their two children went to Paris for what she thought was a summer vacation. Redfa, who promised to prepare her for what was going to happen, told her nothing. When Betty was contacted by a Mossad agent, who had her new Israeli passport, she initially became very upset and threatened to contact the Iraqi embassy, before she calmed down. The other family members were taken to the Iranian border, where Kurdish guerillas helped them to cross into Iran, from where they were taken to Israel.
The opportunity to defect came about on August 16, 1966. While Redfa was flying over northern Jordan, his plane was tracked by radar. The Jordanians contacted Syria but were reassured that the plane belonged to the Syrian air force and was on a training mission. When Redfa's plane reached Israel, he was met by two Israeli Air Force Dassault Mirage IIIs, which escorted him to a landing at Hatzor. Later at a press conference, Redfa said that he had landed the plane on "the last drop of fuel".
Soon after his defection, Redfa's MiG was renumbered 007, reflecting the manner in which it had arrived. Within a few weeks the aircraft took off again with Israeli test pilot Danny Shapira at the controls, on the first of many test flights. The jet's strengths and weaknesses were analyzed and it was flown against IAF fighters, eventually training Israeli pilots to deal with the aircraft. In May 1967 director of CIA Richard Helms said that Israel had proven that it had made good use of the aircraft, when on April 7, 1967, during aerial battles over the Golan Heights, the Israeli Air Force brought down 6 Syrian MiG-21s without losing any of its Dassault Mirage IIIs.
In January 1968, Israel loaned the MiG to the United States, which evaluated the jet under the HAVE DOUGHNUT program. The transfer helped pave the way for the Israeli acquisition of the F-4 Phantom, which the Americans had been reluctant to sell to Israel.
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