How the F-4 Phantom fighter entered the war for Israel

The arrival of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom in Israel in the late 1960s marked a milestone in the country’s military history as it was the first advanced military equipment provided by the United States to the Jewish State.

This fighter, which played a crucial role during the Vietnam War as a long-range supersonic interceptor and all-weather heavy bomber, stood out as the main American air superiority asset of the time, setting no less than 15 world records, including those for speed and altitude.

Israel’s decision to acquire the F-4 Phantom in the mid-to-late 1960s coincided with a period of growing tension caused by the hostile rhetoric of then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The addition of the Phantom to the Israeli Air Force arsenal was considered an essential strategic move to ensure national defense and survival for years to come.

The F-4 Phantom: Pillar of Israel’s air superiority

How the F-4 Phantom fighter entered the war for Israel

The development of the F-4 Phantom had its roots in the 1950s when McDonnell Aircraft initially introduced its naval fighter design, known as the “Super Demon.”

Although the US Navy was satisfied with its ongoing projects—the future Vought XF8U-1 and the Grumman that the F-4 Phantom all-weather fighter-bomber was born.

This innovative design was equipped with two J79-GE-8 engines and could carry the radar-guided AAM-N-6 Sparrow III missile. Its structure included air intakes with fixed and variable ramps, which allowed the aircraft to reach speeds ranging between Mach 1.4 and Mach 2.2.

During the Phantom’s initial production phases, its radar was upgraded to Westinghouse’s AN/APQ-72 model, which optimized visibility and cockpit space.

By surpassing the Mach 2.0 barrier on its maiden flight, the Phantom established itself as a significant achievement for both the US Navy and McDonnell, its manufacturer.

However, beyond its impressive speed capabilities, what truly distinguished the F-4 was its exceptional acceleration and thrust, capabilities that gave pilots the tactical advantage of entering or exiting combat at their discretion.

Air reinforcements after the Six-Day War: The arrival of the F-4E

How the F-4 Phantom fighter entered the war for Israel

Following the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force identified a pressing need to upgrade its arsenal with front-line fighters. Thus, in 1969, the first fifty F-4E Phantoms were integrated into its fleet.

This decision was made despite warnings from the Pentagon, which foresaw possible tension in relations between the United States and Arab countries, and in defiance of negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union to establish a limit on arms sales in the region.

The delivery of the F-4 Phantoms to Israel came at a critical time, just as the country faced continued attacks from Egypt following the Six-Day War. With the addition of these fighters, the Israeli Air Force felt considerably more capable of carrying out deep raids into Egyptian territory, thus improving its defensive and offensive posture.

The F-4 Phantom’s challenge to Soviet air superiority

Under Soviet influence, Egypt had acquired advanced surface-to-air missile systems and benefited from the presence of Soviet MiG-21 fighters, which carried out defensive patrol missions along its border.

Although the MiG-21 was considered one of the most competent fighters of its time, the advanced capabilities of the F-4 Phantom allowed Israeli aircraft to apply innovative tactics that would culminate in the downing of approximately 100 Soviet fighters.

This confrontation reached its climax in Operation Rimon 2.0, in which the strategy applied by the fleet of Phantoms of the Israeli Air Force was recorded as one of the most outstanding tactical milestones in the military history of the Jewish State.

During this operation, a squadron of French-made Mirage III aircraft, on a reconnaissance mission, along with other Mirages and Phantoms that were discreetly patrolling the Sinai border, laid an aerial ambush.

Luring the Soviet aircraft into their trap, the Phantoms, launching from lower positions, surprised and neutralized the opposing aircraft, demonstrating their dominance in the theater of air operations.

The vital contribution of the F-4 Phantom in the Yom Kippur War

F-4 Phantom

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli air armada of F-4 Phantoms proved crucial. Egypt launched a major surprise attack on the Jewish state; the initial Egyptian assault involved more than 200 aircraft.

Faced with this unexpected attack, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) urgently mobilized a pair of F-4 Phantoms to face the offensive without being fully aware of the magnitude of the assault they were countering.

Within minutes, these two Phantoms managed to shoot down seven Egyptian MiGs, forcing the remaining MiGs into a tactical retreat.

In the 1980s, the Israeli F-4 Phantom fleet underwent an ambitious modernization program called Kurnass 2000. This program sought to integrate advances in avionics, thus expanding the operational capabilities of these fighters.

Despite their retirement from active service at the beginning of the new millennium, the F-4 Phantom remains revered in Israel’s military history, symbolizing not only its bravery and resilience but also its innovation and adaptability in the face of technological and tactical challenges.