The largest aerial manoeuvre ever held in Israel began Sunday, with the participation of 60 aircraft from four countries.
Code-named “Blue Flag,” the exercise includes seven combat squadrons from the Israeli Air Force and one squadron each from the air forces of the United States, Greece and Italy. The Polish air force was also scheduled to take part but withdrew for budgetary reasons.
The U.S. ambassador in Israel, Dan Shapiro, said that the manoeuvres were a good example of the cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli defense establishments. “We are facing the same threats in the Middle East, and it’s important that we have the capability of acting together, if need be.
Such exercises give our pilots and air force personnel the necessary experience, since there could be circumstances under which they operate together.” Shapiro said.
The manoeuvres, which will end in three days, will by followed by an analysis conducted by all the participants.
Observers from 20 countries arrived on Monday to witness the exercises, including some from Cyprus and Bulgaria. “These exercises were planned with the participating countries and we’re drilling side-by-side, not against each other,” said a senior Air Force officer. “The exercise involves the simulation of a joint flight of a task force, flying and probing together.”
Half of Israel’s air space has been closed to traffic for the exercise, extending from the center of the country southwards. “We’re using a wide arena in order to simulate combating real operational challenges,” the officer added.
The pilots are practising attacks on enemy bases as well as tactics for combating anti-aircraft measures, including shoulder-held missiles, advanced surface-to-air missiles and radar systems. The Air Force emphasized that, as in previous exercises, no specific enemy had been defined. Rather, potential aerial threats possessed by an enemy state were dealt with.
Major Amit, deputy commander of a squadron that is taking part in the exercise, said that working with foreign air forces is part of the Air Force’s work plan, aimed at improving its operational capabilities. “We are prepared for any scenario, working on our own or with our friends.”
Captain Bara from an American battle squadron stationed in England said that “Blue Flag” was designed to practise working together as a coalition, “improving the alliance between our countries.”
Regarding possible military action in Iran, Ambassador Shapiro said that “all options are still on the table. The main objective is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and we’ll do whatever is necessary.”
Commenting on tensions between Israel and the U.S., Shapiro said that there is close coordination and full and open communication between the two countries and that Prime Minister Netanyahu and president Obama had agreed on what needs to be done in the near future with regard to the permanent agreement to be signed with Iran relating to its nuclear program.