This past Sunday marked 54 years since the conclusion of a remarkable tale known as Operation Diamond.
During the Cold War, the MiG-21 was considered to be the most impressive and powerful Russian war machine. It was a fast fighter plane that also served an interceptor – meaning, it could obstruct and take down enemy aircraft such as bombers and spy planes with great ease, making it a formidable force to be reckoned with.
When Russia provided Arab countries that surrounded Israel with this extraordinary jet fighter, the Mossad quickly decided to get its hands on it. Three years later – on August 16, 1966 – the Mossad was able to congratulate itself on one of its most successful operations in its 20-year history.
How did it pull it off?
Elite Christian Iraqi fighter pilot Munir Redfa couldn’t justify continuing to serve in Iraq after receiving an order to bomb the Iraqi Kurds, which was against his religious values. So when the Mossad asked him to fly into Israel on a MiG-21, he decided to cooperate.
The Mossad arranged for an Israeli international radio station to play the Arabic song “Marchabtein – Marchabtein,” (“Welcome – Welcome”) to signal to Redfa that the IDF and Israeli Air Force wouldn’t shoot down his plane and that it was safe to fly into Israel.
His arrival marked the first time a Western country acquired a MiG-21. An Israeli pilot later flew on the aircraft with Redfa, simulating war games against other Israeli pilots so they could discover problems associated with the plane. Learning of the aircraft’s weaknesses helped Israel win the Six-Day War.
The Mossad also gave the MiG-21 to the U.S. Air Force and CIA to study it, and the IDF sent an Israeli pilot to the U.S. to teach American pilots how to attack the MiG-21.
Redfa’s family was smuggled into Israel a few days before he took off from Iraq, and they were all given Israeli citizenship. However, they found it increasingly challenging to live there, so after a few years, with new names and identities, they moved to an undisclosed location outside of Israel.
Redfa and his wife have since passed away, but their son and daughter are still alive and live undercover with the support of the Mossad.
Last year, former Mossad agent, speaker, and film consultant Avner Avraham, produced a coin designed by artist Roy Segev to commemorate the anniversary of Operation Diamond. So far, Avraham said, he has sold 80 coins out of the 200 he made (100 bronze, 100 silver) at lectures, museum shops, and online. He will continue to produce different variations of the coins after they sell out, he said.
Avraham is currently writing a script for a docudrama titled “Mossad-21” about the operation.