Monday, May 28, 2007

Today in IDF History - Operation Shlomo

"IAF Command to Central: Aircraft already launched!!"

16 years ago, today: "Operation Shlomo" Brings 14,000 Jews Home in 33 Hours

"In a record-breaking airlift, the Israeli Air Force, aided by El Al Israel Airlines,, brought 14,000 Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa to Israel - 1,200 of them in one 747 - within 33h just days before the capital fell to rebel troops."

"Some of the flights were performed by a specially configured El Al 747, carrying 1,200 passengers. The top-secret Operation Solomon began on 24 May when an air force C-130 Hercules brought the first group of high-ranking Israeli officers and experts to Addis Ababa International Airport. The airlift was completed a few hours before the first rebel units reached the airport area."

"The group, headed by deputy chief of staff Gen. Amnon Shahak, set up a command post in the airport while Israeli special forces and paratroops secured the runway and airfield perimiter. An Israeli mobile air traffic control unit performed advisory control, parallel to that given by the airport's tower."

"By noon on 24 May preparations were complete and the green light was given for the first aircraft to land. In the next 24h 18 air force C-130s and eight Boeing 707s aided by nine El Al aircraft - three 747s, four 767s and two 757s - flew 14,000 Jews from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. All El Al aircraft had their logos covered."

"An El-Al 747-200C Combi was converted to passenger configuration, with 760 seats. With the arm rests folded, these seats allowed 1,200 of the new Israeli immigrants to be crammed into the aircraft. (The previous record was 674 people in a Quantas 747 after a cyclone hit Darwin.) The 747 was on the ground at Addis Ababa for only 37min before leaving with the record number of passengers."

"The passenger-configured 747s carried 920 passengers on their 454 seats and on the floor, while the 767s carried 430 on their 224 seats and floor. The 757s carried 360 passengers on thier 197 seats and in any available space. An Ethiopian Airlines 757 made one flight to Tel Aviv as part of the airlift. The air force's 707s had their seats removed and rubber mattresses put on the cabin floors. Each 707 carried 500 passengers and 180 passengers were packed into air force C-130s."

"The Israeli authorities had notified some Arab and African countries along the Tel Aviv - Addis Ababa route about the traffic near their airspace."


In early 1991 the rule of Mangisto Hayela Marim was facing rebelling forces that were approaching the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Abba. These rebels were threatening Mangisto's rule.

The approaching coup against Mangisto aroused the fear that the fate of the thousands of Jews awaiting their immigration to Israel will be in danger. The Israeli government led by the indelible Yitzhak Shamir began intense negotiations with the Ethiopian leader, in order to agree upon the fast airlift of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.

As the rebels began to close in on the capital, the two governments reached an agreement, and the Israeli government instructed the IDF to launch an aerial rescue operation for the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. The IAF notified Shamir: "Aircraft already launched!!"

The miraculous operation concluded in a time span of about 34 hours as about 30 planes brought 14,400 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.

Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2006

It took the government of Israel nearly three decades to take significant steps to bring the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel, but when it did finally make a commitment to do so in the late 1970s, it carried out daring and dramatic operations.

The story of Operation Solomon—how Israel evacuated more than 14,000 Jews in less than thirty-six hours—is the subject of Spector's fascinating and well-documented history.

Following the first large-scale rescue in 1984, Israel learned that the Ethiopian Jewish population was far larger than previously thought. Their predicament became increasingly dire as Ethiopia dissolved into civil war. By 1990-91, thousands of Jews were identified by American activists who provided them humanitarian assistance and called on Israel to allow them all to come to Israel.

The Ethiopian government, however, saw its Jews as bargaining chips and did not want to let them go without extracting a price from Israel. Initially, it sought weapons but ultimately settled for a large payment of cash.

The U.S. government played a key role. Diplomats, Senator Rudy Boschwitz, and President George H.W. Bush all weighed in to secure Ethiopian permission to allow the Jews to leave. Spector does not give Bush the credit he deserves, presenting him as merely signing off on the requests of others rather than himself strongly supporting the rescue. This is an example of the one weakness of the book, which is that it is missing the historical context of the story, in this case, Bush's direct involvement, when vice president, in negotiations with Sudan for the earlier rescue of the Ethiopian Jews.