Israeli Air Force retires oldest F-16 fighter squadron, carried out raid on Iraq reactor

Israeli Air Force pilots during the ceremony marking the closure of the IAF's 117th Squadron at Ramat David Air Force Base, Sept. 30th, 2020. (IDF Spokesperson's Office)

The squadron took part in Operation Opera, the 1981 air strike which destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, near Baghdad.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

On Wednesday, the Israeli Air Force officially retired its oldest F-16 fighter jet squadron, the 117th First Squadron, nearly 70 years after its creation.

Since its inception in 1953, the squadron has taken part in every Israeli war and shot down around 125 enemy aircraft. The squadron was the first in the world to shoot down an enemy F-16 fighter jet.

Led by then-squadron commander Col. Ze’ev Raz, the squadron took part in Operation Opera, the 1981 air strike which destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, near Baghdad.

The squadron’s retirement was announced in May, as part of the “Momentum” plan promoted by IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Aviv Kochavi to streamline and update military resources, technology, and equipment.

On Wednesday, IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin spoke during a public ceremony commemorating the historic closure at the Ramat David Air Force base. Norkin touched upon the role the squadron had played during its 67-year history.

“The first jet squadron and its activities are an integral part of Air Force history,” he said. “The squadron participated in all Israeli wars, and embarked on attack and defense missions in various arenas.”

“The closure of the squadron is a sad event,” said Norkin, “but it embodies a streamlining process that is being carried out by the Air Force these days, as part of a deep understanding that we need to adapt to the current reality and [achieve] economic efficiency now, so we can intensify in the coming years.”

“The spirit of the squadron, the human capital, the fallen and their families are etched deep in our hearts, and they are the ones that will preserve the squadron’s legacy in the pages of history,” said Norkin.

“I’m proud of you 117th Squadron.”

All of the squadron’s current commanders and soldiers remain in the Air Force, and will be integrated into other combat units.

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