August 16, 1966
The MIG-21 fighter jet was the most advanced Soviet-built military aircraft of the 1960s and was commonly used by Arab air forces and Soviet allies in Asia, making it the main threat to western air forces at that time. Accordingly, the Israeli Air Force and intelligence establishments had long sought to obtain an MIG-21. On August 16, 1966, Iraqi fighter pilot Munir Redfa, escorted by two Israeli Mirage jets, landed an Iraqi Air Force MIG -21 at the Hatzor Air Force Base in Israel.
Known as Operation Diamond, the plan to recover a functional MIG-21 fighter jet began in 1963. Initially, the Mossad attempted an operation in Egypt, led by Mossad agent Jean Thomas. Thomas’ plan was to pay an Egyptian fighter pilot $1M to steal a plane and fly it to Israel. This plan backfired with the pilot reporting Thomas to Egyptian authorities, resulting in his arrest and a failed mission. The second attempt to recover a MIG-21 took place in Iraq, and failed after Mossad operatives physically assaulted two Iraqi pilots in an attempt to silence them when they refused to cooperate.
Following a tip from an Iraqi-born Jew, the Mossad reached out to Iraqi Christian fighter pilot Munir Redfa. Redfa was personally disillusioned because of the poor treatment he endured as a Christian in the Iraqi military. He was especially angry at being forced to attack Iraqi-Kurdish targets. In clandestine negotiations in Europe, the Israeli Government offered Redfa $1M, Israeli citizenship for himself and his family, and guaranteed full-time employment in Israel. After secretly visiting Israel to view the airfield where he would be landing, engaging in numerous briefings with Israeli Air Force personnel, and receiving a secured plan to remove his family from Iraq, Redfa defected with his MIG-21. The plane was later renumbered 007 by the Israeli air force.
(The photo shows the Iraqi MIG-21, re-numbered 007, at its permanent home at an Israeli Air Force museum in Hatzerim.)