A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 17, 2011

Al Schwimmer and Israel's Air Force and Aviation Industry

Adolph "Al" Schwimmer died on June 10 in Tel Aviv at age 94, but the obits appeared in the last day or two. Schwimmer, an American who violated US laws to provide aircraft to Israel at its birth, later became the first President of Israel Aircraft Industries (now Israel Aerospace Industries), and is generally considered the father of the Israeli Air Force. Ironically, he died on his 94th birthday.

Born in New York in 1917, Schwimmer worked for Lockheed Martin and TWA, and in the Israeli War of Independence helped smuggle surplus US military and other aircraft through Europe to the new state of Israel. Some credit him with the birth of the Israeli Air Force. He returned to the US after the establishment of Israel, and was tried and convicted of vi9lations of the Neutrality Act, and stripped of his right to vote, though not imprisoned. David Ben Gurion invited him to Israel, where he founded the country's aviation industry. He headed Israel Aircraft Industries until 1978.

In the 1980s, when I was working on Middle Eastern defense production issues, I got to know IAI pretty well, and Schwimmer was legendary, though I never met him.

The Jerusalem Post has a much more detailed obit here.  Along with the photo at right of Schwimmer in a cockpit with Ben Gurion.

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