The Unruly Czech Airplane That Helped Israel Win Its Independence

Near the end of World War II, Czechoslovakia’s Avia Company retooled one of its factories to produce Messerschmitts for the Luftwaffe. Avia kept making fighter planes after the war ended, but, having lost access to the German-made engines, had to redesign the aircraft with different parts, creating the S-199, an awkward hybrid used by the Czech air force. In 1948, with war on the horizon, the Haganah—unable to buy arms from the U.S., Britain, or the Soviet Union—became the only other military to purchase the S-199. Robert Gandt writes:

The first band of volunteers—two Americans, one South African, seven native Israelis—arrived at the České Budějovice air base on May 11, 1948. Lou Lenart, a wiry former U.S. Marine Corps pilot, made the group’s first flight in the S-199. It was nearly his last. Lenart recalled, “The big paddle-bladed propeller produced so much left-pulling torque that the first time I tried to take off, the plane ran away from me clear off the runway, through a fence, and over a cliff.”

To the volunteer pilots, the Czech fighter seemed to have a vicious streak, like an attack dog turning on its handler. The narrow landing gear made the S-199 difficult to keep aligned during takeoff. Directional control was made even worse by the enormous torque of the propeller. . . . The volunteers had barely begun training when, on May 15, the radio in their Czech quarters broadcast the news that Israel’s war of survival had begun.

Learning that Arab planes had bombed Tel Aviv, the pilots, with hardly any training, disassembled and packed the planes and went to fight for their country, where the aircraft were reassembled at the Ekron airfield.

The existence of the Czech-built fighters was a closely held secret. The newly assembled S-199s had not been test-flown. The guns had never been fired. None of the radios worked. But if the Egyptian army was not stopped, none of these concerns would matter. . . . Lenart, who led the four-ship [mission], had never flown in Israel before. Where was Ashdod? he wondered. All the villages along the coast looked alike.

In the [nascent Israeli air force’s] first two missions, two fighter planes were lost and one severely damaged. Of the first five pilots, one was dead and another too injured to fly again. But the secret was out: Israel had an air force. To make it official, the unit was given a designation: 101 Squadron, a grand-sounding label for a ragtag outfit down to one flyable airplane and three pilots.

Still, these crucial missions slowed the initial assault on Tel Aviv and may well have forestalled a calamitous defeat. By the war’s end in January, the S-199s had shot down a total of seven enemy planes. And as Gandt points out, the “mere sight of the fighter in the early days of the war had terrified the invaders and roused the spirits of the outnumbered defenders.”

Read more at Air & Space

More about: Czechoslovakia, Haganah, Israeli history, Israeli War of Independence

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict