Based on oral history accounts of surviving members of Israel’s first International Squadron and organisers of the military airlift to Yemen in 1964, this analysis examines the origins of the squadron, its mission to Yemen, and its impact on Israeli foreign policy in Africa. The founding of the International Squadron in 1963 incorporated the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser into the Israeli air force and gave the military and Foreign Ministry the country’s first long-distance transport capability. The initial successful military airlift to Yemen in May 1964 opened the possibility for additional clandestine military aid missions to sub-Saharan Africa and Kurdistan and marked the beginning of an era of Israeli “weapons diplomacy.” The Squadron’s incorporation of more advanced transport planes during the 1970s presented the Foreign Ministry with the capability of reaching Latin America and Asia, an essential factor in Israel’s expanding global arms market and later humanitarian missions.
Israel’s International Squadron 120, founded in 1964, embodied the “Never Again” post-Holocaust imperative of Israel’s identity ahead of its adoption on a national level. Beginning with an airlift mission to Yemen’s northern highlands in 1964, the squadron emerged as the long arm of Israel’s foreign policy during the nation’s “golden era” of the 1960s and subsequent decades. Through the continued influence of its early members, many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust, the squadron assumed the forefront of international humanitarian aid and rescue efforts. This article tells the story of this squadron through the oral histories of five of its original members.