Interview With General Israel Shafir
Brigadier General (in Reserve) Israel“Relik” Shafir was one of the eight pilots selected to fly the mission to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981. He and his wingman, Ilan Ramon — the first Israeli astronaut, who died tragically in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster on February 1, 2003 — were the last two of the eight pilots to drop their bombs and the only ones to actually see the reactor blow up.
Shafir spent 31 years as a pilot and commander in the Israeli Air Force, including stints as commander of the Hatzor Air Base Pilot’s School as well as the Tel Nof Air Base. After retiring in 2002 he entered the business world and is currently the CEO of Israel Energy Initiatives, a company developing technology to extract oil from oil shale. In addition to this, he also serves as a spokesman for the Israel Air Force (IAF).
After much effort, Zman was able to arrange a meeting with General Shafir, who is today putting his military and business experience to work in search of solutions to freeIsrael of its energy dependencies.
We met General Shafir in his office, in a large and elegant building in Yerushalayim’s business district, where his company, Israel Energy Initiatives, occupies an entire floor. We were very privileged that he granted us some valuable time from his full schedule for this exclusive interview.
Israel Shafir, or “Relik” as he is popularly known, was born in 1953 to parents who were European immigrants. His father, Mickey, arrived alone from Vilna in 1935. Mickey left behind his parents and sister, whom he later tried to assist in emigrating when WWII broke out. His efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, however, and Mickey’s family suffered the fate of the other 80,000 Jews of Vilna who were murdered in the Holocaust.
“I am named after my grandfather who died in a concentration camp,” the legendary-pilot-turned-general tells us.
Israel’s mother Hadassah, nee Rabinowitz, came from a family that originated in Romania. In 1890, they left the city of Iasi(Jassy) and made aliyah. At that time, Baron Maurice (Zvi) de Hirsch ofMunich purchased large tracts of land inPalestine for the purpose of creating agricultural colonies and settling them with Jewish families. The Rabinowitz family settled in theGolan Heights.
They lived there for close to a decade, but conditions were so harsh that four of their fourteen children died. They left the Golan to become among the first settlers in Yavne’el, near Tiverya, today widely known for its large community of Breslover Chassidim. They supported themselves through farm work.
Israel Shafir was actually not the first in his family to serve in the military. His father was among the many Jews who joined the Jewish Brigade that trained under the British Army in 1942. Some 3,000 Jews fromPalestineserved on the brigade as it fought inEurope.
Mickey Shafir was inspired to volunteer for the British Army when word of the widespread brutality committed by the Germans reached the Jews of Palestine. Like many around him, Mickey hoped to save whatever he could of the remnants of European Jewry and also hoped to arrive in time to rescue his own family. At the same time,Israel’s mother volunteered for a women’s unit that helped the war effort by arranging shipments for the Jewish soldiers serving at the front.
Mickey fought the Germans for several years where they were entrenched inItaly, but he was unable to do anything for his family.Israelis named for his grandfather who was murdered by the Nazis, and his oldest daughter, Rachel, is named for the sister Mickey lost.
Nevertheless, Mickey used his position in the army to assist Jewish refugees who returned from the camps broken and demoralized and saw their only hope for a new future in replanting themselves in Eretz Yisrael. In General Shafir’s words:
Right after the war, in ’45 and ’46, my father was stationed in Belgium, in the Netherlands. He and others helped Jews to go to Israel by actually using British transport vehicles. They transported all kinds of things for the British, but also, in the same trucks, they moved Jews around. This was an underground type of operation that took place when the Brits were actually looking the other way. They knew exactly what was going on but looked the other way. That is how they were able to help people move from Europe to Palestine then.
Many members of the Jewish Brigade died in the war, but it was that very brigade that formed the professional core of the future Israeli army later on in 1948. The combat experience of those trained by the British in the Jewish Brigade would prove invaluable.
A Pilot Against His Will
Israel Shafir grew up in Tivon, a small town nearHaifa. The area was populated by a mix of Sabras and European immigrants, mostly Hungarians.
“A lot of Hungarian Jews arrived in 1956,” during the Hungarian Revolution,Israelexplains. “Many of these people were Holocaust survivors who had come out of the camps and had numbers tattooed on their arms. I was about three. We became very aware of what had happened to them. I remember my mother — she was a kindergarten teacher — telling me the plight of these people, and about how we should support them and understand their hardships. This awareness was always part of me, the way I grew up. And it gave me the feeling that we’re living in very lucky times. The atmosphere we lived in made us very much aware of Holocaust events.”
When Shafir was 14, his family left Israel. Because Mickey was fluent in 10 languages and a skilled communicator, he landed a job as a representative abroad to help Jews from other lands make aliyah. The Shafir family spent two years inGlasgow,Scotland, and another two years inToronto,Canada. There,Israel studied in the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, a religious school. This exposure to classical Torah Judaism developed in him a special appreciation toward religious Jews.
“One of my best buddies there,” he remarked, “became a chabadnik. He was probably one of the smartest kids in the school. I was not shocked [when he became religious] because of the type of family that I grew up in. There were lots of religious people around, and I just never looked at it as something strange. We stayed friends and we visit every now and then.”
Today, Shafir proudly spends four hours each week studying Talmud in a special organization that works with Jews with limited religious backgrounds.
At age 18, Israel Shafir, known by then as Relik, returned to Eretz Yisrael where he joined the general draft. His plan was to join the infantry, not the Air Force, and he certainly never dreamed of performing a historic mission that would rescue his land from a serious danger.
The way the selection process works is that those who are eligible to become pilots are drafted at the age of 18 into the Air Force. They go through a selection phase — or, let’s say, a “de-selection phase” — and eventually those who are not “de-selected” become pilots. That’s about five percent.
That was what happened to me. I was drafted and went straight to the flight academy. After two years, I became a pilot. I never really thought about becoming a pilot beforehand. I wanted to be an infantryman. It’s one of those things: you get drafted, you do your best and, if you’re successful, you make it.
I actually didn’t like it at all, getting into the pilot’s program. I liked being with my friends there, etc., but it was not a congenial type of environment. It was hard and not enjoyable.
Many years after that I became commander of the flight academy myself, so now I can see the side of the student on one hand and the commander on the other hand. It’s an extremely pressurized environment — physical and mental pressure. And that helps the selection process. It helps select people who can withstand these types of pressures and also allows you to know yourself and understand that you can go beyond the limits that you thought you had.
Also, the flying itself — unless you’re one-of-a-kind, like Ilan Ramon, the types who were born natural pilots — the rest of the guys had to work hard at it. And you can never do as well as your instructor; you’ll always make mistakes. This is exasperating and it takes a long time to really master the machine.
Training for the Mission
Relik Shafir had not been serving as a pilot for long when he was chosen to serve in the operation to bomb Osirak, Sadaam Hussein’s nuclear reactor. He had just joined the IAF one year before.
This was 1981, the year thatIsraelreceived its first shipment of F-16s, and Relik was a member of the original group of four pilots who traveled toAmericato be trained in flying the F-16 by the US Air Force inUtah. Two more groups of four pilots each followed right after them. These 12 pilots would become the backbone of the first two F-16 squadrons. Of those 12 pilots, eight flew on the Osirak mission.
Relik’s combat experience began even before he learned to pilot the F-16.
Before I became an F-16 pilot, I was an F-15 pilot and had taken part in a dogfight and had shot down a MiG-21. So, I had my own experience in combat as well as in reconnaissance flight before that.
It was 1979 and the Syrians were trying to shoot down our reconnaissance F-4 Phantoms. And they actually came close to shooting down one of them that was flown by a buddy of mine. There were two encounters, one each in June and September. So we set up a trap for the Syrians by sending high altitude recon airplanes, and as they were trying to shoot them down, we pulled up from low level with F-15s to engage the MiG-21s. Four of them were shot down in June 1979. And we did this again in September. I was number three in the formation and shot down one of the MiG-21s with a missile. This was my first air-to-air combat.
Now, though, it would be Relik’s first time flying the F-16 on a mission. In fact, it was only the second timeIsraelsent F-16s on a mission. The first time was in April when Shafir’s squadron commander shot down an enemy airplane. “That was the first time we [in F-16s] shot down a MiG-21,” Shafir tells us.
For the Osirak mission, the group had to undergo very intense training.
These were very hectic times. We were busy learning the new airplane. Part of the training was making long-distance flights to see the range of the airplane. Only at a later stage did we learn that the actual long-range flights and tactics that we developed were designed to see if we were able to do the attack on the Osirak nuclear plant. It was only first around December 1980 that we — or most of us, at least — became aware of what the actual training was for.
We used to train once every two weeks for that particular mission, which included getting to know the type of terrain that we would encounter, the type of anti-aircraft weapons systems, missiles and guns that surrounded the Osirak, etc. And we kept training until we had perfected the tactics and techniques.
There’s a saying a great golfer once said: “Golf is a game of luck. The more I practice, the luckier I get.” As pilots, you need to be well trained. You need to take full responsibility for whatever happens. If you foul up, you are going to pay for it. In combat, if you make a mistake, a lot of times you pay with your own life. A lot of times you don’t. But you must always try not to leave anything for chance.
This particular mission was very meticulously planned, at least as far as the numbers were concerned. The operational science that we used to compute the number of airplanes required led us to believe that two airplanes were going to be shot down.
Of course, I was happy that none were shot down. But this does not mean that in other cases this would not take place. It just means that we were able to take the Iraqis by surprise, and they were slow in reacting. Even when they did shoot one missile at Ilan Ramon, he was already low-level and they missed. So I would say it was a blend of good planning and a little bit of luck.
As mentioned, the pilots who were training for the mission were not informed until very late what their mission would be. When Relik was finally informed what their mission objective would be, he was shocked.
I was stunned to learn that Iraq had a nuclear reactor. I had no idea that they had a nuclear program, and I certainly had no idea how far along in the development process it was.
We soon learned that the reactor would not be hot until September 1981, which was actually the reasoning to attack when we did. We did not want to attack it when it was hot, which would cost many [civilian] lives. So we knew the time frame [to carry out the attack] was between when we started training — let’s say in October 1980 — and September 1981.
BeforeIsraelcould launch its raid against the Osirak reactor, though, a surprise event threw all the plans up in the air. This was whenIranbombed the reactor, during the first week of its eight-year war withIraq.
“The Iranians attacked the site in September 1979, and it was a complete failure,” Shafir told Zman. “They missed the target. As a result, the Iraqis, who did not have missile batteries defending the nuclear site, now constructed a battery of missiles around the site to defend it. That really changed our mode of operation. It was now very heavily guarded by the Iraqis, making the planning more difficult. That was the Iranian contribution.”
In the final weeks leading up to the operation, Shafir and his colleagues prepared themselves for the mission in a state of constant pressure. They were all well aware that there was a good chance that they would not return. Even worse, they might be captured alive.
All of us knew the historical meaning and repercussions. You didn’t really share any feelings or anything with your friends, but personally it’s a scary thing to go through. You carry a weight on your shoulders. You have a natural fear for your life but, on the other hand, you know that you are in a position to make a change, a historical change.
I was well aware of the dangers and I think the basic feeling was that we were at the point of history where we were taking part in something that would have a big effect on yourself as well as the future of your family and your people. I don’t want to exaggerate this point, but we felt the weight of the Jewish people, so to speak, on our shoulders.
Of course, efforts were made to arrange a contingency plan in case one or more of the planes were shot down.
It’s part of the operational planning. The mission was timed to take place toward dusk so that if we did have to bail out, it would have been as it was getting dark, which would enable us to hide for a while and possibly be picked up in a rescue operation. We also were given a little bit of Iraqi money. We had dates [a staple food in Iraq] that we were given, etc. It is a standard operation as part of getting ready for a mission to have a plan if you get shot down. You get the standard operation supplies and instructions.
Eventually the day arrived when Relik Shafir, his good friend Ilan Ramon and six fellow pilots set out on the critical and highly dangerous mission to destroyIraq’s rogue nuclear reactor.
“When you are in the airplane, you are busy with the actual mission, and there is a lot of work in the cockpit,” General Shafir explains about the flight intoIraq. “There’s lots of navigation planning: how to navigate and how to reach that point and to get the weapons system ready. You have to deal with the tactical situation, so this really takes your mind off of the other things. You are, thankfully, too busy with all the tactical details to think about other things while operating the airplane.”
Shafir recorded much of their mission on the plane’s video cameras, so the scenes he witnessed inIraqbefore and after the bombing remained very fresh in his mind.
“I switched the video on and off from takeoff to about five minutes before the attack. Overall, it was about 20 minutes of video and audio. My friends [in the other planes didn’t use their cameras until the very end of the flight, because they] were afraid that they would forget to activate the tape recorder, so they only activated it five minutes before the attack. But from the video you can see what I actually saw: you know, people, tents, trucks driving on the main road fromSaudi ArabiatoJordan. Because it’s tape-recorded, I am able to recollect.”
One incident that occurred early in the flight nearly blew the entire operation. While the squadron of F-16s was flying low above the Gulf of Aqaba, King Hussein ofJordan– who was vacationing in his royal yacht in the Gulf — spotted the planes. He immediately understood the meaning of Israeli fighter-bombers heading in that direction, and he calledIraqto warn the government that an attack was under way. Fortunately, his warning was never received (or could it be he never sent it?).
General Shafir told Zman that they actually flew two miles south of that yacht, and the pilots didn’t find out until later that King Hussein was there.
This took place just after takeoff and you have other things on your mind. Right after takeoff you get your gear up. You go through all kinds of system checks. You make sure the flight is level.
We didn’t know that he was going to be in the Aqaba port. In my video you can actually see as we pass over the Gulf of Aqaba — you can see the different ships. Perhaps someone can find out which one was King Hussein’s yacht. I never really went into that.
My plane, personally, had a problem with fuel. I was not able to get topped off with extra fuel [in preparation for take-off], and I started off a little under the optimum. So I was dealing with how to fly the plane with as little fuel flow as possible. I was very conscious of trying to save fuel.
The flight to Osirak took an hour and 35 minutes. The pilots maintained strict electronic silence throughout the flight. There was no communication between them and no use of radar or other electronic surveillance tactics. Nevertheless, Relik told us that the pilots could observe each other visually throughout the flight.
“We flew about three or four seconds between the four pairs. I was in the last pair. My wingman was Ilan Ramon. You always look at your wingman.”
Shafir and Ramon became friends when they were both among the first pilots to train on the F-16 in theUnited States. Later they were both assigned to the same flying squadron. “Unfortunately, during the first few weeks we lost our deputy commander in a midair crash, and I became deputy squadron commander. I called in Ilan Ramon to join the second squadron, and he was also my wingman in the training. We became close friends through that.”
Shafir tells Zman that they passed over Bedouins in the Saudi desert who waved to them in friendly greeting as they flew low above their heads. “Of course, they didn’t know who we were. If they had known, they probably would not have waved their hands. But it was an amazing scene. They never thought that we were Israeli airplanes. The planes, of course, had the Jewish stars on them, but the Bedouins didn’t see it. They couldn’t see because we were flying at such a low level and passed so fast.”
The warm greetings continued even after the planes penetrated deep into Iraqi airspace. “There were people bathing on the beach and they were all waving. You can see that on the video, too.”
The squadron of F-16s was tailed by another Israeli squadron, this one composed of F-15s. The F-15s were sent to cover the F-16s on their return from the bombing mission, in case they were followed by enemy fighter jets.
They did not go into the missile-defended zone. They stayed, let’s say, about 20 miles behind us. When we went in, if we were chased by enemy fighters, they were supposed to take care of them, because we didn’t have enough fuel to actually run a bombing mission and engage in an air-to-air combat. On the way home, their mission was to also protect us from possible Jordanian or enemy fighters. When we completed the mission, we climbed up to a high altitude to save fuel to get back home. They flew with us to make sure that nobody was chasing us.
Relik Shafir and Ilan Ramon were the last two pilots to release their bombs over the reactor. By the time they went in, the Iraqis were already firing wildly into the sky, and these two pilots faced the most danger of all.
“The sky was full of tracers and exploding shells,” Shafir recalls. “We could see the shells flying at us when they exploded in the air.”
But as the last ones in, they also had a benefit none of the other pilots had: Shafir and Ramon were the only pilots to actually witness the reactor as it blew up.
The other bombs had hit the reactor, but the bombs were on a delayed fuse and none of them had blown up yet. Before the first bombs had actually exploded, we had a clearer sight. Then, right after releasing our bombs, they started to explode one after the other. So we saw the whole nuclear plant blowing up in the air. It was like it was happening in slow motion. You get two to three seconds to see that before you break to avoid the missiles and artillery shots. It was a sight never to be forgotten.
We asked General Shafir at what point during the operation — if any — he felt that he could finally relax. He answered:
I think when we climbed up to about 20 miles out of the area. When we got there, I think there was a feeling of both relaxation, but also of emptiness.
You know, when you get ready for something for half a year — something that you fear for your life — you are very tense about performing well and the meaning of the mission. And when it’s done, there is a feeling of: What in life will ever match the feelings or the emotions? I know that a lot of astronauts who come back to Earth had the feeling: What in my life will ever match what I have just gone through?
So maybe it’s that kind of a feeling that your life will not give you an opportunity to have such an intense, historic opportunity. So there was a kind of emptiness. But it was only for a few minutes. It doesn’t last more than a few minutes.
After climbing, you get this kind of feeling and you don’t have anybody to share the feeling with. You are all on your own. We didn’t really speak anything for the next hour. It took us an hour and a half to get back home.
When all the pilots landed safely, after successfully completing the mission they had trained for so long to carry out, Relik found that he was so exhilarated and so emotional that for a long time he could not get out a single word. When he saw his friend Ilan Ramon disembarking from his plane, all they could do was embrace and share the emotion of the moment in silence.
Q&A with General Shafir
Zman: Along with Ilan Ramon, you and the other pilots became pop culture heroes in the popular consciousness. How does it feel to be a normal, private citizen and at the same time be seen as something almost larger-than-life?
Shafir: I personally don’t think about it. One of the dangers that people face in life is the danger of the wife ofLot. You look back and you get drawn by your past, and that does not allow you to look at the present or future in realistic terms.
Zman: How did you deal with the news that Ilan was killed on the Space Shuttle Columbia years later?
Shafir: Yes, it was painful. That being said, in this profession nothing really surprises you. I mean, we knew what the dangers were and the possibility that when you go up in the air not all the airplanes will necessarily come back to land safely. We had a lot of experience losing many friends.
So I couldn’t say that my friends or I were not thinking that something like this could never happen. Therefore, it wasn’t a shock. I mean, it was very saddening, but not shocking.
Zman: During Operation Desert Storm [in 1991], when Saddam Hussein fired SCUD missiles into Israel, what were you thinking?
Shafir: I was a squadron commander at the time. We were already geared up to fly and I felt, “Well, you know, we are dealing with SCUDs. It’s much better to deal with those missiles than with a nuclear capability.” So it was a comforting thought.
Zman: Do you feel privileged knowing that your mission saved millions of lives?
Shafir: I don’t think of it that way. I just happened to be lucky to be in the right place at the right time, to be part of it. But to dwell on this would be… un-pilot-like. You always think of your next mission, be [it] military or otherwise. You think of your next endeavor or challenge. You never sit on your laurels, because you need to rethink of it realistically.
Zman: What did you or the military learn from the mission that could be applied toward dealing with Iran’s nuclear program?
Shafir: One of the things that I have been contemplating lately is that there is only one thing which is more dangerous than not learning from history — and that is learning from history.
Situations are different and you need to re-compute — you need to rethink, re-plan and reevaluate every operational case that you come across. So drawing analogies and making future assumptions based on the past is something which is very dangerous. We should rethink every time what the mission is.
That’s one thing that I take away from that and it’s my experience. My combat experience tells me that each and every mission should be treated as if it were the first and should be considered on its own merit rather than on past success.
That’s true business-wise also. If you did well in one deal, it doesn’t give you anything to [guarantee] succeeding in the next deal.
Zman: Can you comment on Iran getting nuclear weapons and how Israel might respond?
Shafir: I really feel a little limited because, in reserve, I am the Air Force spokesperson. So I am not at liberty to discuss this. This is, by the way, a new post [that exists] only since 2006, since the second war inLebanon. The air force understood that they needed to designate a spokesperson, rather than having the commanders themselves. This is my job. So I feel that I am limited by what I know and my post and would rather not comment on this.
Zman: If Iran does manage to get nuclear weapons, many analysts are saying the threat is not that Iran would use its weapons actively, but that it would create almost an umbrella under which Iran could use conventional force to a greater degree. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, what do you think it would mean for Israel’s strategic position in the region?
Shafir: There are two trains of thought. One of them says that it is a “Mutual Assured Destruction” type of balance, like it was between theUnited StatesandRussiaat the time. [“Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) was a term developed during the Cold War based on a theory of deterrence which assumed that nuclear-armed superpowers would not attack each other because it would end in total destruction for both sides.]
Zman: That assumes rational actors, correct?
Shafir: Yes. The Iranians are not irrational actors. Nobody thinks they are irrational. They may be extreme. They may want to vie for leadership, etc. But I don’t think they are thought of as irrational actors.
Obviously, I think it would be a destabilizing element in a destabilized area to begin with. This is actually why we think this is a strategic threat. But I don’t think it probably has an immediate threat toIsraelbecause the Iranians understand that they would be put in terminal danger if they think about launching.
Zman: Are there any differences in your mind between your own attack on Osirak [the Iraq reactor] and a potential attack on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure?
Shafir: There is a great difference. Tactically, they don’t have one nuclear site or one site that if you take out makes them unable to continue their development plan. So this will probably require coordinated, multi-target continuous attacks, because they are bunkered underneath, which calls for more strategic types of continuous operations. And I think that there is only one air force in the world that can carry [out] this type of operation successfully, and it’s the US Air Force.
Zman: Do you think that it is likely that the Americans would carry out an attack on the Iranians at any point before they get nuclear capability?
Shafir: I think your guess is as good as mine. I don’t have any extra information that would help me assess that.
Zman: Can you comment about the WikiLeaks report that Saudi Arabia lobbied the US to bomb Iran?
Shafir: We didn’t need WikiLeaks to know that. They’ve said it all along. They have been enemies with the Iranians since the fifteenth century when the Iranians became Shiite. So there is nothing new except for the picturesque, actual quotes.
Zman: Will Israel obtain bombers with a range capable of reaching Iran’s nuclear reactors?
Shafir: If you don’t already know, then I’ll tell you that theUnited Statespolicy is not to sell strategic bombers outside of theUnited States. It sells fighters. It doesn’t sell bombers. The fighters — F-15s and F-16s — are limited in range; they only have the range for tactical operations. The Saudis have F-15s and the Egyptians have F-16s just like ours. This is part of theUSpolicy. So we don’t really have bombers.
Zman: In the 1980s Israel started developing its owner fighter, the Lavi. But then the program was disbanded. Do you think that Israel should start manufacturing its own fighter aircraft?
Shafir: Absolutely not. It’s an amazingly costly endeavor. I think we have a much smarter philosophy. We develop systems — the weapons systems, the electronics, the communications, etc. — and take an airplane like the F-15 or F-16 and make it into a much better airplane. Rather than investing in something that you cannot resell, or which would cost a lot of money to create an infrastructure for a relatively small air force, we develop the “smart part” of the airplane that we can use for other systems like unmanned vehicles, electronics, communications, etc.
And this has really spurred the Israeli economy and high-tech industry into all kinds of developments. Not all of them are necessarily avionic oriented, but it has spilled over into other fields. These have really helped Israeli high-tech industry develop in ways that we didn’t think of before. So you are creating a high-tech database or a human resource base, which is a lot more productive than just an engineering or aeronautical database that doesn’t really help you get anywhere.
Zman: Some have said that since the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel lost part of its deterrence. Do you agree with this?
Shafir: There is a continuous flux of loss and gain in the sense that we may have lost some of our deterrence, but for 33 days in 2006Israelwithstood thousands of missiles attacking and we did not waver; the public did not panic. We were not happy, obviously. But perhaps a little bit like inLondonin August 1940, people have learned to live with the threat and understand that it’s not something unmanageable. It’s not a disaster. It’s not something that we cannot go through.
Every generation needs to learn and appreciate the pros and cons of where it is. I think that we gained in understanding that missile terrorism is something that can be contained, which actually improves deterrence. And also we have improved weapons systems that we are developing that help us counter some of the effect of the missiles.
Let me also remind you what Nasrallah said after the 2006 war. Had he known the havoc that would be wreaked on himself and some of the Lebanese infrastructure, he would not have started this war, he said. He is still in hiding, and I think that the Lebanese understand that an attack on Israelwould have devastating repercussions on Lebanon. And it is not by chance that the Syrians did not get into that war, because they know that they would suffer a lot more than they would inflict. So this is a balance of threats that exists on both sides.
Zman: Tell us about life after the army.
Shafir: After I retired, I had a startup company called 4DM, which was eventually sold. Following that I went on to create a software system for cities and towns. We installed the system inAshkelon, and it worked very well. This is a command and control system, like a 911 type. It was a security and safety package allowing the management of emergency situations in complex places like plants and towns. Actually, out of this idea many other companies went the same way such as ours.
After that, I left the field of software and went into energy. I am now the CEO of an energy company called Israel Energy Initiatives. The company is owned by IDT, based inNew Jersey. The owner of IDT is Howard Jonas. He is a Charedi Jew out of theBronx.
We are currently in a development stage of a technology designed to get oil out of oil shale. One of our investors is Michael Steinhardt, the chairman of the company. Two other investors are Lord Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch. We have some of the greatest scientists in the field working for us. Dr. Harold Vinegar is our chief scientist. He is a Jew out of Brooklinewho decided to relocate to Israel. He made aliyah two and a half years ago, hoping to help makeIsrael energy independent by getting oil out of oil shale. This is a technology that he invented. This is really an honor for us to have him. He is really a very special person.
Zman: Now, 30 years later, do the pilots involved in the mission still have any kind of special connection with each other?
Shafir: We were friends all along, because we were together in training and in the same squadron. We stayed friends and still have get-togethers. We used to have a yearly picnic, but we have meetings every now and then. We just had an event in one of the guy’s homes this year.
Yes, we have this special connection and camaraderie between us. But this is common with pilots and others. Spending so many years together in the same profession is something that makes you become friends in any situation. So, to answer your question: Yes, we have a special camaraderie between us.
Zman: We want to thank General Shafir very much for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. It’s been a pleasure.
Shafir: My pleasure. And thank you for spending the time to interview me.