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Six Spitfire warplanes from Czechoslovakia landed in Israel on this date in 1948 as part of Operation Velvetta, which brought 50 such planes (at $23,000 each) from Czechoslovakia via Yugoslavia to aid Israel in its independence war against invading Arab states. Czechoslovakian weaponry, much of it seized from the defeated Germans in World War II, would prove to be crucial to Israel, which was subjected to an arms embargo by Great Britain and the U.S. Czechoslovakia also trained some 81 pilots and 69 ground crew members, who helped to form the first fighter unit of the Israeli Air Force. While the USSR, which dominated Czechoslovakia after a communist takeover of February, 1948, supported the creation of Israel by the United Nations, that support did not last for long, especially once Ben-Gurion positioned Israel in America’s camp as the Cold War began. The country ended its support of Israel by 1949 and broke diplomatic relations a few years later. The Czech foreign minister Vladimír Clementis, a key supporter of the arms exports to Israel, was purged and executed by Stalin in the Slansky Trial of 1952.
“After we have received a small amount of the [Czech] equipment... the situation is radically different in our favor.” —David Ben-Gurion