First Air Force Chief Yisrael Amir, 99, Dies

Yisrael Amir, who organized a medley of used German and U.S. war planes to launch the Israeli Air Force after the founding of the state, died Friday at the age of 99.

The country's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, appointed Amir air force commander two days after Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948.

Although he served in the air force for only two-and-a-half months, Amir embarked on a worldwide purchasing spree that brought into the fleet German Messerschmidt 109 fighters and U.S. B-17 bombers.

Amir, who held the rank of lieutenant-colonel, also developed the air force's intelligence capabilities and embarked on a building and revamping campaign of several airfields across the country.

Amir immigrated to Palestine from his birthplace in Russia in 1923, and joined the Hagana. As part of his assignment with the Hagana, Amir traveled to Europe in 1948 to train several thousand young Jewish refugees from World War II into a fighting force.

After leaving the air force, Amir helped establish the Defense Ministry. He retired from the defense establishment in 1969.

His appointment as chief of the fledgling air force encountered considerable opposition because Amir was not a pilot. However, he was a brilliant organizer with a sharp understanding of the needs of an army and was instrumental in developing sound foundations for technical and equipment excellence in the IDF.