Flooded Fighter Jets Were Bad for Israeli Air Force, the Cover-up Was Worse

The commander of the Hatzor Air Force Base informed his superiors this week that he would resign following the interim findings of the probe into the F-16 fighter jets that were waterlogged when the base flooded last month.

This worthy instance of accepting responsibility isn't common in the Israeli military, and even less so in society in general. But one can also assume that longtime, successful commander, whose name is barred from publication due to his sensitive position, could read the emerging situation as the investigation developed. He stepped down before he could be dismissed.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 60

Netanyahu’s ‘annexation nation’ is ready to strike again. ListenHaaretz Weekly Ep. 60

The interim findings are indeed grave. The planes suffered an estimated 30 million shekels ($8.7 million) of damage. Five planes have already resumed flying, but three others are still undergoing complex repairs and it is unclear when they will be deemed airworthy. When the underground hangars that housed the planes flooded, a number of soldiers were trapped and needed to be rescued.

The air force now admits that the base was not properly prepared for the flooding, despite the harsh weather forecast for that week. The air force also determined that if they had taken all the proper precautions, as laid out in the regulations, the damage to the planes could have been substantially reduced, as well as the damage to other equipment stored in the hangars.

The forecast required the base to prepare for the most extreme possible weather, but nothing was done. The planes were not removed from the hangars, which flooded within hours. The pending crisis was so badly misidentified that some of the commanders were off-base on day of the flooding. Three squadron commanders – of the F-16, maintenance and flight squadrons – were reprimanded in light of the findings.

An IDF fighter jet damaged due to heavy rainfall that flooded an army base in southern Israel.

But this is far from the end of the story. The Israel Defense Force, improperly utilizing the military censor, hid information about the flooding from the public for three days. Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amiram Norkin now admits that the media policy was erroneous and that there was no justification for delaying the information on grounds of information security. The original, unjustified, claim was that announcing the loss of operational capabilities could serve the enemy.

There was another explanation for the delay. The army, the air force in particular, was embarrassed by the unnecessary foul-up, which provided clear and immediate evidence of major errors in judgment and serious negligence. Their automatic response was to try and control the flow of information, as if we were still in the 1950s.