Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: On Eagles' Wings

Ezer Weizman
On Eagles' Wings
New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1976
Category: Israel Air Force - Biography

Rating: 5-Stars

For any student of aviation history, the importance of Ezer Weizman to the evolution and growth of Israel's Air Force cannot be understated.  Weizman presided over the evolution of Israeli air power from a mere supporting element in Israel's wider order of battle, to become the cutting edge of Israel's offensive capability.  It was his dogged determination and sheer political will that made this transformation possible, maneuvering between the Israeli political and military leadership to ensure that Air Force priorities were funded.

The nephew of Israel's first President, the chemist and Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, Ezer Weizman came to the Israeli Air Force with a unique combination of political and military credentials necessary to navigate the halls of power in Israel's early military and political establishment.  Trained as a pilot in the RAF during World War II, Weizman added his own flamboyant flair to the office of Israel's Air Force Commander - insisting on retaining a lone, black Spitfire as his personal mount, which he used to shuttle between Israeli air bases as he made his rounds among the frontline jet fighter squadrons.  It was Weizman who insisted on establishing officer's clubs for the pilots at each Israeli air base, outfitting them in a manner reminiscent of the Battle of Britain.  It was Weizman who insisted that the base cafeterias be prepared to serve hot meals to the pilots at every hour of the day - no matter when a pilot happened to return from an operational mission.  It was also Weizman who insisted on rebuilding Israeli air power around the French-built Mirage III fighter during the 1960s - providing the political clout needed to procure 75 fighter jets, at a time when many doubted Israel's ability to afford, or even absorb such a significant investment.

In his memoir, spanning through the mid-1970s when he finally retired from active duty, Weizman paints a picture of both his family - which supported his military career and often bore the burden of his long hours and absences - and of his relentless drive to establish the Israeli Air Force as the first line of defense within Israel's armed forces.  Weizman's strained relations with his older sister - who married a non-Jew and moved to England during the Second World War - as well as his devotion of his Air Force are all laid out for all to see.  Weizman insisted on knowing every pilot and every technician in his Air Force by name, maintaining a photo-album with details on their backgrounds and personal lives.  His devotion to the men under his command was absolute, and it was his dedication that made the Israeli victory during the Six Day War possible.

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