Israeli Air Force (IAF) has marked three decades since it made the greatest airlift in history when it moved close 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in a dramatic secret operation.
The now mythical evacuation that paints a picture of a military thriller film and that later became known as “Operation Solomon” saw very few pilots transport so many people within 36 hours.
Some reports indicate between two and eight babies were borne during the operation that saw the Ethiopian Jews begin a new life in Israel.
According to a statement by IAF, Israeli forces performed non-stop flights to successfully and safely complete the incredibly complex operation within 36 hours. They used C-130 Hercules, Boeing 707 heavy transport aircraft, along with E1 A1 planes
The IAF Commander at the time, Maj Gen Avihu Ben-Nun said the operation was meant to provide a house and a shelter to Jews from all over the world who suffered and were persecuted for being Jewish.
“Operation Solomon truly represented what Zionism is about and demonstrated the purpose of the State of Israel: providing a house and a shelter to Jews from all around the world who suffered and were prosecuted merely for being Jewish”, He said.
On the execution he said, “It was a great operation on a global scale: never before, did so few pilots transport such a great number of people in such a short time”.
The operation was carried out between 24th and 25th May 1991 and was necessitated by the deteriorating political situation in Ethiopia where the sitting government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was close to being toppled threatening the welfare of Ethiopian Jews known as Beta Israel.
Most of them were living in the Ethiopian highland region of Gondar working as farmers and artisans. The Mengistu regime had made their emigration difficult hoping to trade them off for weapons but the political instability brought an opportunity for mass emigration of Beta Israel.