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Israel’s First Astronaut: A Tale of Tragedy and Miracle

The unforgettable legacy of a national icon and his son.

by
P. David Hornik

Bio

June 30, 2013 - 7:00 am

PJ-Ramon-3

In 2007 Lieutenant Colonel Ze’ev Raz, who was the leader of the eight-man attack force that included Ilan Ramon, told a journalist:

[N]one of us thought—not even in the IDF General Staff—that we would all come back alive…. Maybe some of us would come back, but we were sure there was no way that everyone would. So as far as each of us, individually, was concerned, it was our last day on earth.

…And yet things happened there that to this day we have no explanation for. For instance, according to all calculations the Iraqi radar systems were supposed to have spotted us at least 15 minutes before the bombing despite the fact that we flew at very low altitude.… Of course it was a miracle. How is it possible that even after we bombed the reactor not one plane tried to down us?

I’ll tell you something else: It takes an hour and a half to get back from Iraq to Israel and we were flying 40,000 feet above the ground. The General Staff originally wanted us to carry out the bombing after sunset so it would be harder for the Iraqis to attack us on the way back. But I was opposed to that. I thought if we did the bombing after sunset there wouldn’t be enough light and our planes would miss their target—so I insisted that the bombing take place before sunset.

As a result, we flew back as the sun was setting. But since the planes were traveling at such a fast speed, the sun was out all the time and never set. It was as though it remained standing in the middle of the horizon.

At that time we pilots all radioed each other reciting the same exact biblical verse—Joshua 10:12: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Ayalon….”

They were referring to Joshua’s behest that the natural powers come to a halt so that the Israelites could triumph in battle.

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All Comments   (7)
All Comments   (7)
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Thank you for this essay, for allowing us to feel the wonder and beauty of flight while sitting at a desk. As a pilot I would like to humbly point out, there is no such thing as a routine training mission.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
I recall listening anxiously to FM radio for the shuttle re-entry report (I was following the story of Ramon)...And the first reports that something was amiss came from Hawaii. It was so shocking, so horrific, so sudden, I didn't want to believe it.
Thank you for this article (and for the author noting all the strange, if not miraculous, coincidences).
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Inspirational. Thank you for this article.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Beautiful piece; thanks.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks to you!
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"even the United States, then led by the Reagan administration that was generally (but not necessarily) friendly toward Israel, voted along with the Security Council to condemn the operation. The U.S. also penalized Israel by delaying a shipment of aircraft, and by withholding vital intelligence information for years."

Reagan indeed deferred to the almost wall-to-wall insistence by his advisors that Israel be sanctioned, but he could hardly conceal his admiration for Israel's success. In Roger Claire's "Raid on the Sun" he describes Reagan reviewing satellite images of the aftermath. "Okay, yeah, yeah, I see," the president said, referring to the putatively damning evidence of Israel's perfidy, "But what a terrific piece of bombing." (p. 221)

Clair also notes that "By September 1, 1981, the sale of F-16s to Israel was quietly resumed", though restrictions on access to KH-11 surveillance satellites, originally imposed by Carter, were "firmly back in place". And how did Israel originally get hold of those F-16s? They were intended for the Shah's Iran, but after the Islamic Revolution the sale was cancelled, and the US found a willing buyer in Israel. (Note that Obama chose *not* to cancel a more recent sale of F-16s to now Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt.)
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Reagan's Admin shows that no matter how pro-Israel a President might be at heart, there are always conflicting impulses. The Kissinger types refer to these as 'strategic interests'; they have afflicted (I like that word here) similar Admins (Bush's/was there another?). I think that, even with a President like Bush who had affinities for Israel, there is also this belief that Israel should clear even vital actions first with Washington. So it was reported recently that Bush was furious with Olmert for Syria reactor strike...if that is true or not, I don't know. Then you have Obama (okay, you can keep him)..
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
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