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Subject: Israel Amir, First Commander of Independent Israel's Air Force

Dies at 99
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Date Posted: November 06, 2002 12:49:59 EDT

Israel Amir, the first commander of the Israeli Air Force, died in a hospital in Tel Aviv on Friday, an Israeli military statement said. He was 99.

Mr. Amir was born in Russia in 1903, and in 1923 emigrated to what was then British-ruled Palestine. He soon joined the Haganah underground, the forerunner of the Israeli Army.

In 1942, after holding a number of field commands, Mr. Amir was made head of the Haganah's information department, which later evolved into the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence agencies.

In February 1948, before Israel declared its independence and was attacked by Arab armies, Mr. Amir was sent to Europe to recruit and train thousands of young Jewish survivors of the Holocaust for combat upon their arrival in the Middle East.

Just after independence, on May 16, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion appointed him to head the new country's air force. At the time, the force was made up of eight secondhand light aircraft and lacked a functioning airstrip.

Mr. Amir began a purchasing campaign overseas, adding about 60 aircraft among them German-designed Messerschmitt fighters and American-made B-17 bombers. Mr. Amir held the post just 10 weeks, but by the time he left, the air force had 3,000 people, two airfields and training schools for pilots and technicians.

He then moved to the Defense Ministry, where he held administrative posts until retiring in 1969.

The military statement did not provide information about Mr. Amir's next of kin.

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