In two epidemics of bovine ephemeral fever (BEF) in Israel, one in 1990 and one in 1999, the virus was probably carried by vectors transported by air currents across the Rift Valley and through the Red Sea trough. The disease broke out under optimal ecological conditions among vulnerable cattle populations and spread rapidly; it developed in the spring and summer and ended soon after the daily average ambient temperature fell below 16°C in late autumn. The proportion of herds affected reached 78.4 and 97.7 per cent in 1990 and 1999, respectively. The highest rates of incidence, morbidity and mortality were recorded in dairy cattle herds in the Jordan Valley, the initial focus of the outbreaks, with a morbidity of 20 and 38.6 per cent in 1990 and 1999, respectively, and mortality among the affected animals of 2 and 8.6 per cent in 1990 and 1999, respectively. In 1991, the disease recurred sporadically in the central and southern regions of Israel in only three herds, but in 2000 the disease returned on an epidemic scale, and 85 per cent of herds were affected, with morbidity and mortality rates of 4.3 and 0.3 per cent, respectively. In the 1999 epidemic, the morbidity rate decreased from 38.6 per cent on average in the Jordan Valley to 12.8 per cent in the inner valleys and 5.3 per cent on the Mediterranean coastal plain, but the mortality rate increased from 8.6 per cent in the Jordan Valley to 14.3 per cent in the inner valleys, and to 28 per cent on the Mediterranean coastal plain, where the outbreak declined. An average of 2.7 per cent of the animals experienced a second attack of the disease two to six weeks later. The epidemic in 2000 was milder and shorter than that in 1999. All the cattle affected in both outbreaks were more than three months old. The vector(s) is not known for certain but the available evidence indicates that mosquitoes, and not Culicoides species, are the natural vectors of BEF virus in Israel.