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Purity of Arms

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Ezer Weizman  E-mail

Ezer WeizmanEzer Weizman was born in Tel Aviv in 1924, and raised in Haifa.

He began his long military career by enlisting in the British Army in 1942 in the war against Nazi Germany.  He served as a truck driver in the Western Desert campaigns in Egypt and Libya.  In 1943 he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF), qualifying as a pilot in Rhodesia, and was posted to the RAF in India in 1945. Weizman ended his service in the RAF as a sergeant pilot but without any operational experience.

After his discharge from the RAF, Ezer attended London University to study economics.  There he became involved in the Irgun Zvai Leumi underground movement together with fellow student, Boris Senior, a South African World War II pilot.  Their involvement in the Irgun Zvai Leumi raised the suspicions of Scotland Yard, and both Ezer and Boris had to leave the U.K. in a hurry.

On his return to Mandatory Palestine, Weizman was one of a handful of pilots who founded the "Air Service" of the Haganah. Ezer commanded the Negev Air Unit of Piper Cubs based at Dorot, near Kibbutz Nir-Am.

On 29th May 1948, Ezer flew in a formation of four Avia S-199s which carried out the IAF’s very first combat fighter mission in a low-level attack on the Egyptian Army, which had already advanced to the Ad Halom Junction near the Arab town of Isdud (Ashdod), less than 20 miles south of Tel Aviv.

This formation was led by Lou Lenart, an experienced American combat pilot.  The two Israeli pilots who flew on this mission were Ezer Weizman and Modi Alon.  Eddie Cohen, a South African pilot, was shot down and killed by Egyptian anti-aircraft fire.  The next day, Ezer, together with American Milton Rubenfeld, attacked an Iraqi column approaching Kfar Yona.  Rubenfeld’s S-199 was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and he was forced to fly out to sea, where he ditched his aircraft on the beach at the village of Michmoret near Kfar Vitkin.


Ezer Weizman


The Czechoslovakian Avia S-199, with its many idiosyncrasies and deficiencies, was a vastly inferior model of the famous World War II German Messserschmitt (ME-109).  Ezer, an excellent pilot, was one of only four pilots not involved in crashing an Avia S-199.


Link to Avia S-199


On 7th January 1949, Ezer led a formation of four Spitfires which engaged a formation of 19 British RAF aircraft – four Spitfires and fifteen Tempests which had been despatched from the Suez Canal zone to look for four missing RAF Spitfires shot down earlier in the day by two Machal pilots and a Machal tank crew in this last engagement.  Bill Schroeder, an American Machalnik, shot down one Tempest, and Ezer damaged a second Tempest but did not shoot it down.  This episode was the last aerial engagement in the War of Independence.  On that historic day the IAF shot down five RAF aircraft and damaged a sixth one.


Link to “Spitfires over Israel

In the early days of the war, a raid in a small Fairchild plane over Gaza became part of the lore of those days.  The men involved were a South African pilot Cyril Katz, with Ezer Weizman as the bomb-chucker.  Weizman was already known as being “a bit crazy,” a description stemming from his utter indifference to danger.  From Gaza to Tel Aviv is a 25-minute flight in a Fairchild, and Weizman and Katz remained over the target for two hours.  Having thrown his bombs onto the target, Weizman said he had a case of empty bottles, which make a piercing and frightening noise when hitting the ground.

“OK,  we’re going back,” said Katz after the despatch of the bottles.  “No, no, we’ve got to draw their fire,” Ezer replied. “There’s no point in that,” argued Katz. “It’s good to worry them and to keep them awake,” was Ezer's reply.

Katz then made his calculations.  Machine gun fire could reach up to about 4,000/5,000 feet, and at 6,000 the plane is reasonably safe.

“Go lower, go lower,” Weizman told him, but when Weizman wasn’t looking, Katz increased the altimeter reading by an extra 1,000 feet, so that when he was at about 5,000 feet the altimeter read 4,000 feet.  That kept Weizman quiet for a time. “We’re going home now,” Katz said. “No, no,” Weizman replied, “let’s worry them some more.”

A weary Katz landed at a Tel Aviv airfield three hours after take-off.  Whilst taxiing along, Weizman noticed that the altimeter read 1,000 feet at ground level, and he then realized that Katz had pulled a fast one on him.

Before Sydney Cohen, the Commanding Officer of 101 Squadron, left the IAF in April 1949 to resume his medical studies in South Africa, he had recommended to Aharon Remez, Chief of the Air Force, that Ezer should be his successor.  Even though Ezer had limited operational experience, Syd based his decision on Ezer’s ability as a first-class pilot and as an outstanding leader.  After Syd and his wife Addy came on aliyah, Syd and Ezer maintained their excellent relationship, and when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa in 1994, Mandela invited Ezer as President of Israel to attend the inauguration ceremony.  Ezer invited Syd and Addy as his guests to accompany him on this visit.

Ezer mentioned frequently that he learned so much from Syd Cohen as a fighter pilot and as a squadron commander.  When Syd left for South Africa, Ezer, who was then the Commanding Officer of 101 Squadron, gave a four-Spitfire escort to the Dakota in which Syd was flying back to South Africa.

Throughout the years, Ezer expressed his appreciation and recognition of the contribution which the Machalniks made in founding and developing the IAF, and of  Machal’s tremendous contribution to Israel’s victory in the War of Independence.

Ezer was Commander Officer of the Israel Air Force from 1958 till 1966.  He was Chief of Operations of the General Staff during the 1967 Six-Day War, and he was the architect of the IAF’s unparalleled victory over the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian Air Forces in that war.  He also served as Deputy Chief of the General Staff, and retired from military service in 1969.

On entering his political career, Ezer joined Menachem Begin’s Likud party, serving first as Minister of Transport and then as Minister of Defense.  Together with Moshe Dayan, he was on Menachem Begin’s team at the Camp David peace talks.

After a short term as a businessman, Ezer formed his own small independent party, Yachad, and returned to politics.  He joined the government of National Unity led alternately by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir.  He served as a government minister for six years.

In 1992 he again retired from active politics, and a year later he was elected as the 11th President of the State of Israel.  He was re-elected in 1998 for a second term, but resigned in July 2000.  Ezer Weizman passed away in April 2005.


Condolence letter from Smoky Simon, Chairman of World Machal,

to Ezer Weizman’s widow, Reuma

25th April, 2005


Dear Reuma,

On behalf of Myra and myself, as well as on behalf of World Machal, I wish to express most sincere sym­pathy and condolences to all the mem­bers of your family.


The Machalniks deeply appreci­ated the ongoing friendly relations be­tween Ezer and his Machal comrades, especially with the Machal personnel who served in 101 Squadron. During Ezer's service in the IAF, or in his political life, or as the State President, he always had an open door and a wel­coming smile for Machalniks.


His close friendship with Syd Co­hen is particularly noteworthy. I will always remember the incident which took place in April 1949 concerning President Chaim Weizmann and Syd. The President was about to embark on his first formal visit to the USA. This was an auspicious occasion. The Sky­master aircraft was spruced-up for the flight, and the crew members were fit­ted out with new uniforms, etc.  Ezer had very recently taken over command of 101 Squadron, and I suggested to him that we should honor the Presi­dent by giving him a fighter escort on his flight out of Israel.  Ezer 's response was that although it was a nice idea, he had so many practical problems in the squadron that didn't enable him to implement my suggestion - the aircraft had serious maintenance problems; the squadron was short of engine hours; his pilot-training program was running late, etc., and so the idea was dropped. Two days later, Syd left lsrael to resume his medical studies in South Africa, and lo and behold, four Spitfires escorted the chartered the DC3 aircraft in which Syd was flying to South Africa. When I asked Ezer to explain this asymmetry in the honors accorded to the Presi­dent of the State and to Syd, he replied by saying, “Could anyone believe that Syd Cohen would leave Israel without a fighter escort?”  It would therefore appear that Ezer’s friendship with Syd was even thicker than blood!


May you and all the members of your family be blessed with abundant good health and may Ezer rest in peace.


Warmest regards.


Smoky Simon


Smoky Simon is Chairman of World Machal.

Source:          Henry Katzew’s "South Africa’s 800," AVI newsletter Spring 2005 and various other material.