November 11, 1902
Yisrael Amir, the first commander in chief of the Israeli Air Force, is born in Vilna in the Russian Empire as Yisrael Zabludovsky. He makes aliyah in 1923 and that year joins the Haganah, the Jewish military force in Palestine.
He completes the Haganah commanders course in 1926 and is put in charge of the defense of Mikveh Israel, the agricultural school he has attended since 1924. He rises through the ranks the next two decades, from recruiting in Tel Aviv to leading security in the Sharon area to managing the underground military industry. He is appointed the field commander for Jerusalem in 1946 and at least triples the size of the Haganah force while losing no settlements. Amir is sent to Europe in February 1948 to train Jewish refugees to move to the Land of Israel and fight for their Jewish homeland.
Two days after Israel declares statehood in May 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion names Amir the first commander of the IAF even though he has no air force experience. Amir immediately raises money and procures airplanes abroad. The IAF begins the War of Independence with eight usable light aircraft and no functioning airstrip. By the time Amir hands command to Aharon Remez in July 1948, the IAF has grown to 60 aircraft, including heavy bombers, with 3,000 personnel and a functioning air base in Herzliya.
Amir leaves the IAF command to establish the Defense Ministry but remains in the military until his retirement in 1969. His later public roles include serving as vice president of Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical and blood service. He dies Nov. 1, 2002, at age 99.