When Mach-3 Spy Planes Dueled Over the Middle East

U.S. and Soviet Blackbirds and Foxbats gathered intel amid Arab-Israeli fighting

When Mach-3 Spy Planes Dueled Over the Middle East When Mach-3 Spy Planes Dueled Over the Middle East

Uncategorized September 2, 2013 0

Mig-25. Wikimedia commons photo When Mach-3 Spy Planes Dueled Over the Middle East U.S. and Soviet Blackbirds and Foxbats gathered intel amid Arab-Israeli fighting... When Mach-3 Spy Planes Dueled Over the Middle East
Mig-25. Wikimedia commons photo

When Mach-3 Spy Planes Dueled Over the Middle East

U.S. and Soviet Blackbirds and Foxbats gathered intel amid Arab-Israeli fighting

America and Russian warships are gathering in the Mediterranean, setting the stage for some tense—and potentially deadly—confrontations over U.S. Pres. Barack Obama’s stated intention to intervene in the civil war in Syria, a Russian ally accused of using chemical weapons.

The possible showdown is not without precedent. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s the most sophisticated spy planes in U.S. and Soviet service—the Mach-3 SR-71 Blackbird and equally speedy MiG-25 Foxbat, respectively—flew dangerous reconnaissance missions over the Middle East, supporting opposing American and Russian policies.

In June 1967 Israel went to war with Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt amid mounting political tensions. According to historians Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, shortly before the outbreak of fighting, the Soviet Union deployed prototype versions of the new twin-engine MiG-25 to Yemen, cycling them through Egypt for secret spy flights over Israel, apparently focusing on the Jewish state’s nuclear reactor at Dimona, alleged to help produce the country’s atomic arms.

More rocket than plane, the reconnaissance version of the MiG-25 carried cameras in its nose and could sprint at three times the speed of sound at 60,000 feet or higher. At the moment of its debut, the MiG was “unmatched by anything the West could range against it,” Ginor and Remez wrote. They claim Israel tried and failed to shoot down the speedy intruders, unidentified at the time.

Seven years later in October 1973 the Arab armies, defeated in the first war, attacked Israel. Reeling, the Israelis put their nuclear-tipped missiles on alert. The U.S. launched one of its now-legendary Lockheed SR-71s from American soil on 10-hour round-trip mission to verify Israel’s nuclear activation. UPI correspondent Richard Sale claimed in a 2002 article that Israeli jets tried to shoot down the American plane but could not match its 85,000-foot altitude.

Subsequent SR-71 flights over Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel gathered intel on the fighting as Jewish forces counter-attacked with U.S. logistical support. Jim Wilson was the pilot on one of these missions. As described in his autobiographical book, Wilson’s plane suffered an apparent malfunction. The pilot didn’t want to land in Tel Aviv. “Particularly since a conflicted Israeli government was not aware of our top-secret mission,” he wrote.

Fortunately, the malfunction was actually a false alarm.

The war itself as the American reconnaissance continued. The Soviet Union threatened to deploy troops to reinforce Egypt; the U.S. ramped up its nuclear posture. Rather than risk atomic war, Israel pulled back its forces.

The dueling Mach-3 planes had been central to the drama, just as U.S. and Russian warships and other forces could play an important role in the current, widening conflict in Syria.

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