Israel has been hosting the “Blue Flag” military exercise, the largest international air force exercise in its history this week. In an ironic twist of historical timing, one of the participating air forces was Greece – yes, that Greece, the one that the Jews fought against with such success at the original Hannukah. Today of course Greece is one of Israel’s closest allies:
From the IDF Spokesman’s blog:
This past Sunday, Nov. 24, the Israel Air Force launched – for the first time in Israel’s history – the Blue Flag international training exercise at the Ovda airbase in southern Israel. The large-scale international exercise is a joint exercise of the US, Italian and Hellenic air forces and will be held entirely in English. The exercise, which will continue through Thursday, Nov. 28, is a part of the IAF’s elite training program. The goal of the exercise is to improve Israel’s general air defense capabilities while learning together and cooperating with global allies.
US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, was present at the opening of the exercise. “Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood. We need the best equipped, best trained forces as possible to protect our people and our security,” he said. “We also need allies and we have great allies here…all training together and reinforcing a partnership that gets stronger with each passing year.”
The exercise involves workshops that simulated enemy forces as well as training missions to identify anti-aircraft missiles. The exercise showcases the Israel Air Force’s aerial capabilities. Just last month, the IAF conducted a special long-range flight exercise in which squadrons practiced refueling planes in midair, testing the IAF’s ability to fly exceptionally long distances.
“For us, it is about training together,” a US Air Force soldier explained. “We have been leading up to this exercise for a couple years now. We’re here to continue to work together.”
There’s a great photo gallery at the IDF blog, and here’s the introductory video:
The Jerusalem Post has some great videos which I can’t embed but you can watch at the link. They add:
Modeled on the US Air Force’s Annual Red Flag exercise, Israel’s Blue Flag drill will see squadrons train north of Eilat in desert-based air combat. The exercise includes air-to-air and air-to-surface simulated missions.
“The drill required many preparations by air and ground crews, long before the foreign air forces landed in Israel,” the source said. Previous meetings with foreign air forces were held to set “the rules of the game for the exercise,” he said.
Training with other air forces enables all participants to share operational capabilities and experience; train in unfamiliar terrain; and practice long-range flying, the source said.
The US sent F-15 fighter jets and Greece and Italy sent F-16 and AMX ground-attack aircraft.
During the exercise, the IAF is employing a new system for the first time that stores data from all planes taking part, and processes it to investigate how pilots performed.
The Times of Israel assures us that this drill is not connected to the Iranian nuclear agreement:
The Israel Air Force has been drilling extensively in recent years for the possibility that it will be called upon to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Blue Flag, Shapiro was making plain, is emphatically not part of any such preparation.
The ambassadors, pilots and IAF commanders were careful, indeed, not to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, the interim deal reached early Sunday morning in Geneva, and the glaring differences of opinion between Washington and Jerusalem.
Noting Israel’s cooperation with Greece, the senior officer said that, despite all, he missed Israel’s cooperation with Turkey. “I’d be very, very happy to go back to those training drills in Turkey,” he said, referring to the NATO member’s Anatolian Eagle drill from which Israel has been barred in recent years amid strained bilateral relations.
And yet, that sadly missed Turkey is the one that necessitated this massive drill in the first place:
The exercises were organized in part to allow the IAF to participate in international training, after Israel was banned from air exercises with NATO several years ago due to Turkish objections. The exercises are designed to simulate realistic engagements in a variety of scenarios, based on Israel’s experience with air forces of Arab armies in previous engagements.
In addition to the scenarios that will be practiced during the workshop, the Israeli aerial teams will train for a flight conducted entirely in English, as required in the international exercise. “‘Blue Flag’ is an advanced exercise at a very high level and we have to fly in English, which is something we aren’t used to”, said IAF First Lieutenant Omri, who is responsible for the workshop from the “Knights of the Orange Tail” squadron.
Also participating in the exercise will be observers from additional countries, who will examine future participation in the coming years.
On the one hand it is outrageous that Turkey persuaded NATO to disallow Israel from participating in their exercises. On the other hand, Turkey has cut off its nose to spite its face, and not for the first time. It is extremely gratifying that Israel has managed to bring together so many foreign air forces to participate in this huge multi-national exercise.
Those rumours of Israel’s international isolation are more wishful thinking than fact.