American U-2 espionage planes repeatedly entered Israeli airspace in the 1950s for a series of secret spy missions, new information published by an Israel Defense Forces publication revealed this week, bringing to an end a decades-long mystery.
At the time, Israel's defense establishment was baffled by the entrance of high-flying crafts, cruising at altitudes of about 70,000 feet, and code named "Jules Verne."
"Our planes, puny in comparison to the mysterious craft, had to climb to an altitude of 40,000 feet, only to return empty handed," only 1950s flight log wrote of the mysterious incursions, which were kept as a secret among military officials.
IAF officials reported each incident to the air force's top brass, as well as to the IDF's command: "Since [1956's Suez War] this planes have been periodically appearing in the sky, mainly in times of tension and in regular locations," one report said.
"Our planes have been scrambled toward them on numerous occasions, but their altitude prevented contact or even identification," the report added.
In the space of four years, officials in IAF command disagreed on the identity of the mystery crafts, with some claiming that they were British Vickers-Valiants, and others saying they were American Vought F-8 Crusader planes, who had been stationed on a U.S. aircraft carrier.
However, according to documents released by the IAF's archives, and which is due to be published later this week, it was the U.S.S.R. that aided Israeli officials to finally expose the identity of the mystery planes, after a U.S. U-2 espionage plane was shot down over Soviet soil.
Following the interception in May 1960, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said: "I hereby present the American plane that no fighter could reach, and that we had successfully shot down."
"It can fly in altitudes of up to 20 kilometers and carries precision photography equipment... Needless to say, the plane has in its flights repeatedly violated the sovereignty of many other states in the world," Khrushchev said at the time.
Speaking to the IAF's official publication, Gary Powers Jr., the son of U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 was shot down in the 1960 incident, said that his father was at the helm of 28 such espionage flights, adding that only four of those were flown over the U.S.S.R., with almost all the others over "hot" spots in the Middle East.