Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chapter 2. In Motion

Heyl HaAvir, the Israeli Air Force, was as old as the State of Israel. Some would argue that its first aircraft was a single engine Piper Cub that arose from the tiny runway of the art-deco Jerusalem airport at Ramallah to reconnoiter the Bab El Wad. Below, brave Zionists fought their way through the Valley of Death to finally break the Arab stranglehold on the world’s holiest city.

Twenty F-161 Netz fighters jumped from the floor of the Jezreel Valley, two at a time. Once over the valley they formed two groups of ten fighters.

The valley runs diagonally from Mt. Carmel in the north, overlooking the city of Haifa, southeast to the Jordan rift, a deep 100-mile-long crack that terminates at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Midway along the western ridge of the valley are the restored ruins of King Solomon’s fortress, Meggido. From that position on the hill of Meggido, a military commander could see and control the entire valley. Such a fortress would have global import because through this valley have traveled the world’s most famous generals and its most feared armies. It is the only path between Europe and Africa, or Europe and Asia, that does not require an army to climb mountains or cross seas. So, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Ceasar, Hannibal, Richard the Lionheart, Sulieman, Allenby, Rommel and untold others had used this strategic corridor either for conquest or escape. No wonder its Hebrew name struck fear into the hearts of those who traversed its depths. The fortress Meggido sits upon a hill, which in Hebrew translates har. Over time, Har Meggido had become known as Armeggedon, and the word had taken on a meaning of its own.

The first Netz group circled north into the Galilee toward Nazareth to convince any plane spotters in Arab-inhabited Afula, near the airbase, that the planes were heading toward the Golan, Lebanon or for a regular jaunt up to Mt. Hermon and back to the base via the Jordan Valley. They had been performing this maneuver for the past five nights and a story had been planted in the news about a new class of graduating pilots. A ceremony had even been performed on Masada to make the ruse convincing.

The second group used Mt. Tabor, just behind the base, as a pylon - looping around and then west, over the ruins of Meggido and, at just a hundred feet over the terrain, swiftly shot over the Med where they joined in an arrow-shaped formation and headed toward the Saudi peninsula. Group one shot through the valley between Haifa and Acco, banked and executed a 90-degree left turn to fall in line 30 miles behind group one. The heading was 180, due south. Just 40 seconds and they would pass Gaza. A sharp left turn would take them over the Egyptian Negev and toward Eilat at the northern end of the Red Sea. There was a series of valleys that would hide the planes from Egyptian radar at Suez and Jordanian radar at El Qatrana.

The plan was for the first group to continue south to the Red Sea, then directly over it at an altitude of 20 meters, re-entering Saudi airspace parallel to Luxor, Egypt to the west. The Saudis were getting a phone call from an intelligence contact, but they had already promised to stand down as long as Israel claimed it had flown around the country, and not over it. The irony that a sworn enemy would give such permission when the United States would not had not been lost on the politicians and senior military staff.

The first Netz group will present themselves more boldly as they enter Saudi territory. When the second group rises a few minutes later to greet them, it is hoped the ballet will appear to Jordanian radar analysts like Saudi activity. Just in case, a jamming unit had been located in the Jordanian desert, towed into position by camels and a platoon of IDF infantry disguised as Bedouin nomads. It was to be fired-up intermittently so as not to look like jamming, but just bad electrical service, a very plausible cause of interference on the CRTs in remote El Qatrana, atop the Moabite mountains.

Seven Japanese-made Bell 212 heavy lift Huey helos had been stowed aboard seven specially equipped Israeli Hetz class missile frigates now stationed randomly in the Gulf, north of Hormuz. Each had been placed on its own launch platform and covered by a plywood radome. Spotters, it was thought, would not pick up on the missing platform and would assume the radomes were real. Spotters tend to look for the size, hull configuration, superstructure and armament - ignoring other features. They’re taught to be quick, not thorough.

Plywood covers had been disassembled and stowed below decks as of sunset and the souped-up helicopters were ready to fly. Within the gut of each was a single one-ton bunker-buster bomb, with the capability to burrow 4 meters into solid, reinforced concrete before unleashing a horrific blast designed to create a bowl-shaped pit. These Israeli Bunker Busters were half the size of the US-made GBU 28s that had decimated Saddam’s underground fortresses. But that was part of the plan.

Dropping a ton from a helicopter could create control problems for pilots, so Israeli aeronautical engineers and pilots had worked out a clever scheme. Bombs were mounted on a steel plate polished smooth. A similar plate was mounted to the floor of the helo and six compressed air lines were attached underneath the stationary plate. When a mere 30 pounds of pressure was applied, the one ton bomb rose gently about an eighth-inch and could be moved freely with just a fingertip. As the helo hovered over its target, the missile-shaped bomb would be rotated 90-degrees in the belly of the helo with its fins protruding from an open doorway added to the starboard side of the aircraft, and its nose with sensitive guidance system sticking out the port side.

But, as it slid away, it would lose its pressurized lift and could do real damage as it fell onto the open doorway of the Huey. It meant the pilots would have to execute an arcing dive, like a falling elevator, and a slip-and-dip to the right at just the right time. The levitating bomb would slide right out the open door, and its trailing edge would drop harmlessly into the night. The descent of the helicopter would compensate for much of the sudden weight loss and if all went well, flight would be maintained.

Pilots practiced the exercise for a month using increasingly heavy weights until dropping a one-ton dummy bomb from the open door was as easy as spitting off a bridge.

As the bomb cleared the doorway it would pop an umbilical cord, the steel plate and cradle would catch the wind and flutter away like a falling leaf, and a GPS computer chip would fly the bomb by making slight adjustments in aerodynamics over the 3300 meter drop, to take it to within a meter of its intended target.

Two gunners, a pilot and co-pilot manned each helo. Each had a full load of gas, and a full complement of suppressive weapons. It would only require one of the gunners to handle the bomb drop.

There were complex plans to eliminate any resistance before the helos arrived on target.

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