My Life as a Fighter Pilot and a Founder of the Israel Air Force
by Boris Senior
Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2005. 256 pp. $25.95.
Reviewed by Judith Friedman Rosen
CUNY Graduate Center
Middle East Quarterly
Israel's air force and its advanced aero-technology helped define the country in recent decades, but in the years immediately prior to the country's birth and during its struggle for independence (1946-48), things were rather different. The emerging country was threatened by enemies from within and on all its proposed borders. Fledgling military forces smuggled in contraband armaments, breaking a British-imposed ban. Despite such efforts, the future looked bleak. Only air assaults could secure the national Jewish homeland, but there were no airplanes and no pilots.
Into this situation entered Senior, an experienced World War II fighter pilot for the British Royal Air Force with a Zionist orientation. His autobiography engagingly recounts how a young man from a well-to-do South African family, along with other overseas volunteers acquired a mix of aircraft, learned to pilot them, smuggled them to Palestine, and engaged in battle. Senior recalls his World War II sorties, his flying experiences, and a close brush with death. These events prepared him for the challenges he would face as a fighter pilot for the Yishuv (Jewish settlements in pre-state Israel) and as a builder and founder of what would become the Israel air force.
Senior recounts how his ragtag air force secured victory by personally purchasing aircraft and sneaking them across international borders, and how they risked their lives on unfamiliar and untested equipment. He reminds us of the ingenuity, determination, and resolve that he and the fighters had for the creation of Israel. He emphasizes that the U.S. government was not a friend of the fledgling nation, curtailing the pilots' ability to transfer airplanes to Palestine. In contrast, the Russians rescued the endangered Jewish fighting forces from destruction by permitting "Czechs to assist us (training in and procuring Messerschmitts)." In addition, "Russian diplomatic and political support in the United Nations during that period were instrumental in helping Israel survive." This directly contributed to the success of the war in the air, which, through the efforts of the Mahal overseas volunteers, brought final victory to the nation and led to Senior's ability to initiate and build the Israeli air force.
Related Topics: History, Israel | Judith Friedman Rosen | Fall 2006 MEQ
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