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Inside Operation "House of Cards"

Inside Operation "House of Cards"

The IAF Site returns to Operation "House of Cards", the largest IAF attack in Syria since 1974. The aircrew members, Air Defense Division combatants and intelligence service members told us about the dramatic night. "Numerous missiles were launched towards us. I saw flames heading in my direction and they disappeared within a second." 

May 9th, 2018. The IAF's aircraft and aircrew members wait for the final go-ahead before embarking on the strike sortie. Air Defense Division batteries are spread across Israel's northern theatre in preparation for threats coming from the other side of the border. This is no ordinary strike – it is the IAF's biggest strike in Syria since 1974. The enemy - the Iranian Quds Force. 

In less than two hours, IAF aircraft attacked over 70 targets under the threat of SAM (surface-to-air missile) batteries. "Red Color" radar system warnings were sounded in the northern sector and the "Iron Dome" batteries faced continuous launches. 

"You couldn't understand what was going on – it was dark and numerous missiles were launched towards us. I saw flames heading in my direction and they disappeared in a second", described Lt. Col. M', Commander of the 107th ("Knights of the Orange Tail") Squadron which operates "Sufa" (F-16I) aircraft. The first "Ra'am" (F-15I) flight formation had taken off in silence just several moments before. The fighter jets surprised the Quds Force with air strikes deep in Syrian territory. 

The Iranians, who had already realized what was to come, began firing towards the aircraft. "Some of the aircraft performed evasive maneuvers, some flew at lower altitudes. Precision and concentration were critical – a minor error could get you hit. It was an extraordinary night. We were dozens of aircrew members from the squadron and it was the first time we had ever seen something of this sort". 

Tonight's the Night 

The Air Defense Division is well aware that a new threat is rising in the northern theatre. The "Iron Dome" battalion located in the northern theatre has existed for merely six months and was already required to partake in one of the area's largest operations. The battalion continues to integrate new batteries as the atmosphere becomes tenser. "We continue learning about the enemy and the capabilities of our systems", elaborated Lt. Col. Amos Jerbi, the battalion's commander. 

"Tonight's the night" was a common expression among the interceptors that month. "We began our shifts every night prepared for disturbance of the peace", said Lt. Col. Jerbi. "The soldiers were on ready alert. One night, the system reported a new finding. In just several seconds, we saw a massive missile salvo headed towards Mount Hermon. That was the moment I said: 'here it goes'. That was the moment for us to apply everything we had practiced over the past month". 

That dramatic moment was the beginning of the largest night of combat in the northern theatre seen by the IAF in 44 years. "We responded and they hit us back. We faced many targets, including SAMs which were intercepted by the 'Iron Dome' weapon system", said Lt. Col. Jerbi. 

Not Just an Operation 

"I got into bed at around 12 o'clock at night when I was phoned and told that I had to run back to the squadron", recalled Lt. Col. M', Commander of the 107th ("Knights of the Orange Tail") Squadron. "When I arrived, I realized that missiles had already been launched towards Israeli territory" – at that moment, dozens of fighter jets had already begun dividing into formations in preparation for takeoff. More and more flight formations took off in order to attack the targets deep in Syrian territory. 

"It wasn't just an 'operation', it was a day of actual combat. There were hundreds of intelligence service members on duty. The intelligence officers arrived and we began planning targets for the coming strike", said Maj. D', Head of the Decoding Department and Deputy Commander of the Intelligence Directorate's Visual Intelligence Unit. 

This is how the IAF began its strikes on SAM batteries and targets deep in Syrian territory. The advanced SAM batteries were SA-17s and SA-22s which arrived at the northern theatre in the past decade. Their capabilities are precise, and the threat grew as a result. 

From the Ground Up 

The targets attacked by the IAF are chosen from a target pool. The first stage of the process is mapping out the targets and understanding the value of each one. The second stage is differentiating between targets designated as part of the operation, and responsive targets such as SAM batteries, all while trading blows with the other side. "I've been in the IAF for 18 years and I can't recall an event of this size", emphasized Maj. D'. 

The IAF's intelligence service members rely on existing knowledge when designating targets for an upcoming strike. When a new force comes into play, these are required to learn everything from the ground up throughout their operational activity. "Intelligence work is difficult, but when something like this happens, our difficult work has to be started over from scratch", said Maj. D'. "We have to maintain our routine activity while familiarizing ourselves with the new factor". 

"Wow, what was that?" 

"We landed, the jet was docked, and just before turning off the engine we began realizing what we had just gone through. I remember saying to the WSO: 'Wow, what was that? What just happened?'", said Lt. Col. M'. "The operational tension that kept me concentrated throughout the mission began wearing off. It was undoubtedly an extraordinary event". 

"Nearly all of the IAF's squadrons and divisions took part in Operation 'House of Cards'. Fighter jets, helicopters, surveillance aircraft and RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles)", said Maj. D'. "Dozens of missiles were fired at our aircraft. It was a crazy night". 

The Air Defense Division had an incredibly memorable night as well. "We learned the challenges and complexities of the northern theatre, understanding that we have a lot of work ahead of us in order to ensure that we always have the upper hand", concluded Lt. Col. Jerbi. "We have since developed and integrated new capabilities in order to improve our professional level". 

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Sources of Information: 

Israeli Air Force

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