Eventually, the situation became unbearable for the Israelis: the gloves were now to be taken off. Free from defending neuralgic areas, and with the IDF/AF reluctant to engage MiGs it was not sure if they were flown by the Soviets or Egyptians, the EAF was now able to hit enemy positions in Sinai very hard, while simultaneously moving its SAM-sites closer to the Suez, thus closing the sky over potential crossing points for IDF/AF aircraft. The losses in Phantoms were also painful and there was no clear solution for the new SAM-threat. Therefore, on 25 July, the IDF/AF began planning a new ambush, this time specifically planned to lure Soviet MiG-21s in front of three sections of Mirages and Phantoms, flown by hand-picked pilots, and thus make the situation “clear”.
On 30 July, shortly after 1400hrs, two F-4Es bombed the Egyptian radar station at Sohana, in the Gulf of Suez. Four high-flying Mirages were nearby, with four additional Phantoms at low level, all waiting for the Soviets to appear. Further to the rear four additional Mirages were positioned as well. When there was no reaction from the Soviets, the front section of Mirages penetrated deeper into Egypt: almost 12 minutes after the initial attack, the Soviets finally reacted. The first to be scrambled were eight MiG-21s of the 135th IAP, led by Capt. Kamencev. They expected to clash with a group of Skyhawks or Phantoms that were apparently underway towards Cairo: in fact, the Mirages were only dragging them in front of Phantoms. As the pursuit continued, four additional MiGs were scrambled from Kom Awshim, and now the rear quartet of Mirages joined the fray as well: in response, the Soviets scrambled four additional MiGs from Kutamiyah. Aviem Sela later provided the following account in an interview for the Israeli press:
- I was a number two of a section of Phantoms; we and two Mirages were up against about ten MiGs. It was little unsettling to see so many aircraft at once, so many fuel tanks being jettisoned all over the place. I didn’t care about numerical superiority – I was just afraid someone might bump into my aircraft!
One of Mirages (flown by Asher Snir) fired an air-to-air missile seconds after the battle began. The missile hit a MiG and set it on fire. The pilot bailed out; the aircraft went into a spin and dropped like a stone from 30.000ft. The Russian pilot’s parachute opened right away – it’s not supposed to: chutes are designed to open automatically at 10.000ft, so their wearers don’t freeze or suffocate at high altitudes. But, this pilot used the manual apparatus and opened the chute himself! Maybe he didn’t want to be taken alive... or maybe he just didn’t know any better.
Now some more of our aircraft had joined the battle; the Russians no longer had numerical superiority. I started looking for a MiG to kill. Finally, I found one – its pilot making a right turn, trying to close in on my number one. I broke to the right – the MiG left my number one and started chasing me! We stuck together for a while, dropping to about 15.000ft; at that point he was only about 150 meters from me. I could see the pilot’s helmet clearly.
By this time I’d realized the Russian pilot was inexperienced; he didn’t know how to handle his aircraft in a combat situation. At 15.000ft he proved this fact by trying to escape in a steep dive to 7.00ft. All we had to do was follow him and lock our radar onto him – and fire a missile. There was a tremendous explosion – but the MiG came out of the cloud of smoke apparently unharmed. That made me mad and I fired a second missile - which turned out to be unnecessary. The Russian aircraft had, in fact, been severely damaged by the first missile; suddenly, it burst into flames and fell apart. By the time the second missile reached it, it wasn’t there any more.
Out of the five Russian pilots shot down, one ejected safely and was recovered; one died under his parachute, and Captains Zuravyev, Yurchenko and Yakovlev were killed.
At the end of the battle formations from both sides became dispersed: the Soviets were attempting to disengage, while the Israelis were at the time still not especially good in providing mutual support. The Soviets fired a number of R-3S’ in these moments, but all of these missed. Eventually, however, Capt. Kolesovlev and Puskarskiy managed to hit the Mirage flown by Asher Snir while he was engaged with another MiG (the kill against which was never confirmed): the Israeli landed safely at Refidim.
In conclusion, there was little doubt that the Israeli plan worked: five Russians were shot down one after the other after being hit by Mirages and Phantoms successively. Except for damaging one Mirage, the Russians were given a perfect lection in modern air-to-air combat, the outcome of which consists not only from excellent and combat proven pilots or good aircraft, but also of reliable and functional weapons and combat experience, as well as good preparation and lots the support. At latest now it became completely clear who controls the air over the Suez Canal. Not that the Egyptians were very sorry for their often arrogant Russian „instructors“, but the EAF was in action only days later, again attacking Israeli SAMs and causing several air combats. The Soviets tried now several times also to set traps for the Israelis, but with exception of one Mirage being damaged in a dogfight with MiG-21s, and one Phantom by SA-3s (the pilot managed to land the badly damaged aircraft at Refidim; if this Phantom was indeed written-off, then it was the 16th Israeli loss since 1967) they obviously came away with empty hands.