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Benny Peled, 74; Led Israeli Air Force in Mideast War, 1976 Hostage Rescue

July 15, 2002|From Associated Press

Benny Peled, who commanded the Israeli air force during the 1973 Mideast war and the dramatic rescue of Israeli hostages at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, has died of emphysema. He was 74.

Peled, a retired major general, died Saturday and was buried Sunday at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery in Tel Aviv.

Highly respected as a fighter pilot and as head of the air force, Peled also had a reputation as a controversial figure who often quarreled with Israel's political leadership.

"He was one of the outstanding pilots and commanders of the air force," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a Cabinet meeting Sunday. "He died as he had lived, being honest with himself and those around him."

Peled was born in Tel Aviv in 1928 and began his military service as an airplane mechanic. He completed his pilot's training in 1949 and flew the first jet fighter that the air force acquired, a World War II-vintage Gloster Meteor.

In the 1956 war against Egypt, when he was flying a French Mystere, he was shot down by ground fire near Sharm e-Sheikh in the Sinai desert. Pursued by Egyptian troops, he was rescued by an Israeli light aircraft.

In 1973, five months after Peled was appointed air force commander, Egypt and Syria launched their surprise attack on the Suez Canal and in the Golan Heights. In this war, the Israeli air force suffered its most serious losses, especially from the Soviet anti-aircraft missiles that the Egyptians had massed along the front.

After the war, Peled introduced a number of important operational changes, including establishment of the air force's own intelligence agency.

Three years later, Peled helped oversee the air force and army commandos who carried out the rescue of Jewish and Israeli passengers from a hijacked Air France plane. They were being held at Entebbe, Uganda, by Palestinian and German hijackers and Ugandan soldiers.

After leaving the air force in 1977, he served for a decade as president of Elbit, a defense electronics firm.

Peled is survived by a daughter and two sons, both of whom are fighter pilots, and eight grandchildren.

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