First Commander of Israel Air Force Dies at 99

The first commander of the Israel Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Yisrael Amir, died Friday aged 99. He was appointed by the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, two days after Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948.

Senior IDF officers, among them Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and IAF commander Dan Halutz, paid tribute to Amir on Friday, upon hearing of his death.

"The deeds of Lieutenant Colonel Yisrael Amir in the IDF, the IAF in particular, and in the security establishment will remain etched on our hearts," read an official IDF statement.

Although he served in the air force for only two-and-a-half months, Amir embarked on a worldwide purchasing spree which brought into the fleet German Messerchmidt and U.S. B-17 fighter planes.

Amir also developed the force's intelligence capabilities and built or spruced up several airfields across the country, laying the foundations of what would become the mightiest air force in the Middle East.

Born in Russia in 1903, Amir immigrated to British-mandate Palestine in 1923, joining the underground Hagana force, which prefigured the creation of the Israel Defense Forces.

As part of his assignment for the Hagana, Amir travelled to Europe in 1948 to train several thousand young Jewish refugees from World War Two into a fighting force to be integrated into the fledgling IDF.

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