The IAF's increased involvement was noticeable during May's Operation Rainbow in Rafah, but it went up a few notches in the current fighting. An IAF assessment at the start of the week shows helicopter gunships were responsible for some 50 percent of the fatalities among armed Palestinians during Days of Penitence.
The IAF's involvement was offensive and defensive. On the offensive front, the IAF closely supported infantry and armored corps forces in the built-up areas of the Jabalya refugee camp and the towns of Beit Hanun and Beit Lahia. The ground forces operated, in essence, under an airborne cover providing them with combat helicopters, drones and additional intelligence means.
Helicopters helped attack targets inside the Palestinian communities and also to locate and strike at armed cells that threatened ground soldiers. This is one of the reasons why the offensive force didn't sustain a single fatality during the operation. In addition, helicopters located and attacked Palestinian cells that attempted to fire rockets into Israel from the outskirts of built-up areas and in open ground.
To achieve these results, the IAF maintained an aerial combat arena, for all intents and purposes, in the Strip over the past weeks. Combat helicopters hovered over the Strip day and night, reserve pilots were called up for intensive and lengthy periods of duty, and the IAF's intelligence squadron set up a Palestinian department for the first time, with a number of senior officers entrusted with the task of gathering information regarding the firing of the Qassam rockets and coordinating operations with the IDF's Southern Command.
The IAF also significantly tightened its working relationship with the Shin Bet security service - ties that were institutionalized during the course of the assassination operations in recent years.
'I have no doubt that after the disengagement, there will be helicopters in the air along the border of the Strip 24 hours a day,' a senior IAF source said this week, adding that the techniques developed recently would serve the IDF also in the event of a flare-up along the northern border .