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Israel Once Stole MIG-21 from Soviet in James Bond Style

HomeArticleIsrael Once Stole MIG-21 from Soviet in James Bond Style

August 16, 1966

The MIG-21 fighter jet was the most modern Soviet-built military aircraft of the 1960s and was widely employed by Arab air forces and Soviet allies in Asia, posing the greatest danger to western air forces at the time. Consequently, the Israeli Air Force and intelligence agencies had long desired to acquire a MIG-21. On August 16, 1966, Iraqi fighter pilot Munir Redfa landed an Iraqi Air Force MIG-21 at the Hatzor Air Force Base in Israel, escorted by two Israeli Mirage jets.

1963 saw the beginning of Operation Diamond, an effort to recover a functional MIG-21 fighter plane. The Mossad initially tried a mission in Egypt, commanded by Mossad operative Jean Thomas. Thomas intended to bribe an Egyptian fighter pilot $1 million to steal and fly an aeroplane to Israel. The pilot reported Thomas to Egyptian officials, resulting in his detention and the failure of the mission. The second attempt to retrieve a MIG-21 failed in Iraq after Mossad agents beat two Iraqi pilots in an attempt to intimidate them into silence when they refused to comply.

In response to a tip from an Iraqi-born Jew, the Mossad contacted the Christian Iraqi fighter pilot Munir Redfa. Redfa was particularly disillusioned by the harsh treatment he received in the Iraqi military as a Christian. The fact that he was forced to attack Iraqi-Kurdish objectives infuriated him especially. During secret negotiations in Europe, the Israeli government offered Redfa $1 million, Israeli citizenship for him and his family, and a full-time job in Israel. Redfa defected with his MIG-21 after visiting Israel in secret to examine the airfield where he would land, engaging in multiple briefings with Israeli Air Force personnel, and receiving a secure plan to transport his family from Iraq. The Israeli air force later renumbered the aircraft 007.

Sir Sean Connery(james Bond) with hen IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Moti Hod with the background of an Iraqi MiG-21, numbered ‘007’ after Bond.


Isser Harel oversaw both the Shin Bet (the Israeli internal security organisation) and the Mossad between 1952 to 1963. (for foreign operations). Early in 1963, he was replaced by Meir Amit, a newbie. Mossad officers loyal to Harel first rejected Amit, but after a difficult start typified by a lack of cooperation and trust, he asserted his control over the organisation. Even those who had vehemently opposed his appointment as the new Mossad director in place of Harel came to respect, like, and like him. Meir Amit proved to be an excellent operations director. In the 1960s, under his leadership and that of Military Intelligence (Aman) chief Aharon Yariv, Israeli intelligence achieved some of its greatest accomplishments. The theft of a Soviet MiG-21 had a major effect on the June 1967 outcome of the Six-Day War.

Amit consulted a large number of military men shortly after assuming command of the Mossad on March 25, 1963, in order to outline Mossad aims and determine what they believed to be the organization’s most significant contribution to Israeli security. General Mordecai (Motti) Hod, commander of the Israeli Air Force in 1963 (and for some years thereafter), instructed him to bring a MiG-21 manufactured in the Soviet Union to Israel.

It is impossible to discern whether Motti Hod truly believed such an accomplishment was possible. Shortly before the Six-Day War, Ezer Weizmann, who took over command of the Israeli Air Force from Hod, told Amit the same thing. If that were possible, the Israelis would have access to the secrets of the most advanced fighter planes owned by Arab states at the time, and, according to the Russians, the most advanced strike aircraft in the world.

In 1961, the Russians introduced the MiG-21 to the Middle East. By the time Amit gained control of the Mossad in 1963, it was an indispensable component of the Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi Air Force arsenals. The Russians unveiled the aircraft with the utmost discretion and security. The Russians had stipulated that they would be responsible for aircraft security, crew training, and maintenance as a condition of supplying the aircraft. Few in the West were familiar with the MiG-21, but its capabilities were feared.

The Russians were aware of the risks they were taking by stationing MiGs in the service of foreign armies outside their borders. Thus, security was extraordinarily tight, and the Russians were frequently to blame. This, in turn, fostered animosity among certain Arab recipients, who were irritated by the greater power the Russians exercised in their own Syrian, Egyptian, and Iraqi air bases than they did. Still, assignment to a MiG-21 unit “was the highest accolade a pilot could receive. These individuals were not the type to accept bribes or engage in loose public discourse. In consequence, neither the Mossad nor Military Intelligence had made any progress.” They had previously attempted a few times. In the early 1960s, the Israelis attempted to bribe an Egyptian Air Force pilot to desert to Israel with his MiG-21 using the services of an Armenian-born Egyptian by the name of Jean Thomas. The pilot refused, Jean Thomas and a number of conspirators were apprehended, and Thomas and two accomplices were executed in December 1962.

Another attempt failed to get two Iraqi pilots to desert to Israel. However, the third try was successful.