How Israel Tried to Get Its Hands on Russia's MiG-29 Fulcrum
March 11, 2021 Topic: Cold War History Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Cold War HistoryIsraelEspionageMig-29Cold WarIDF

How Israel Tried to Get Its Hands on Russia's MiG-29 Fulcrum

Israel used any means at its disposal (including cash) to try and get a physical MiG-29 fully intact.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) always has been highly intrigued by the MiG-29 Fulcrum, and for the country’s military to get its hands on one, it indeed had to jump over plenty of hurdles.

According to one report, “Israel obtained a nearly complete, crated, MiG-29 via a covert deal with a Polish general. The aircraft was at Gdansk awaiting shipment to Syria but was instead put on a plane and flown to Israel in late 1985. The Soviets soon got wind of this and demanded its return. Because the Israelis were then attempting to foster good relations with the Soviet Union, they complied in about February 1986.”

It’s assumed that the parts of the aircraft were thoroughly examined and later photographed, but apparently, nothing more came of it.

In Bill Norton’s book Air War On The Edge: A History of the Israel Air Force and Its Aircraft Since 1947, the author explains that Israel in 1991 borrowed a MiG-29 radar from Germany in an agreement that involved a sizeable number of Soviet weapons sold or loaned to the Israeli military.

“These included up-to-date T-72 main battle tanks (MBTs) shipped to Israel, but listed on officially falsified shipping documents as ‘agricultural equipment,’” the article wrote. “The radar came from one of the former East German MiG-29s that had recently become accessible to the West via the reunification of Germany. After a thorough technical evaluation, the unit was returned to its owner.”

Still, despite the usefulness of the radars, Israel had its sights squarely on the actual jet.

“Unlike the other frontline fighters of the past, the Israelis seemed unable to obtain an example through clandestine measures,” it continued. “But, with the end of the Cold War, a means of evaluating the jet became possible—simply rent one. This they did. Israeli pilots flew the jet in one or more East European countries, and possibly Germany, in the first half of the 1990s.”

In 1996 or 1997, Israel eventually received via a loan three MiG-29s from an undisclosed East European nation, which was likely Poland. During the two-week trial sessions, each jet was reportedly flown twenty times.

At the conclusion of the test flights, the Israelis were highly impressed by the aircraft and all of its next-generation features.

“MiG’s abilities equal and sometimes even exceeds those of the F-15 and F-16 jets,” Major N, one of the IAF pilots who flew the MiG-29, was quoted as saying.

“The aircraft is highly maneuverable, and its engines provide higher weight to thrust ratio. Our pilots must be careful with this aircraft in air combat. Flown by a well-trained professional, it is a worthy opponent.”

One lieutenant general added: “Flying the MIG was one of a kind type of experience for a test pilot. Now I know that the result of an air combat between the MIG and an Israeli fighter jet depends on how the combat develops. In a tight battle, it is a real threat. It’s an advanced aircraft, and in close maneuvering engagements it is absolutely terrific. It makes sharp turns, it’s quick, and to my opinion, as a platform, it does not fall short of our advanced fighter jets.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.