The Israel Air Force has just completed its first-ever deployment of fighter jets to Britain. The IAF F-15s were in Britain for a joint combat exercise with the Royal Air Force, as well as aircraft from the German and Italian air forces.
Exercise Cobra Warrior is one of the largest annual RAF exercises, and is intended to train both pilots and other air specialists in planning and executing complex airborne missions. This year's exercise was based out of the RAF Waddington airbase, home to Britain’s intelligence-gathering aircraft. The Israeli contingent consisted of seven F-15 Baz air superiority fighters and an unspecified number of Boeing 707 Re’em airborne tankers.
According to Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein-Dar, commander of the IAF’s Air Division, “this was a great opportunity for us to work with doctrines we are less acquainted with. The British and the other air forces in the exercise work according to NATO protocols, while we have a different system, due to the environment we operate in.” The Israeli F-15s took part in air-to-air operations in mock dogfights and aircraft interceptions, as well as simulated ground attacks.
During Cobra Warrior, the IAF also took part in extensive debriefings with their British and international counterparts. They also flew a mobile polling station to Waddington to allow Israeli servicemen and women to vote in this week’s election.
While there has been close cooperation between Israel and Britain's air forces for many years, British sensitivities about its arms sales to Arab countries and its ties with Israel kept their partnership under wraps until fairly recently. Earlier this year the first joint exercise between Israeli and British fighter jets took place over the eastern Mediterranean, in conjunction with the United States Air Force. That also marked the first international exercise of all three air forces, all using the F-35 stealth fighter.
In another precedent this year, an RAF Typhoon jet landed at Ramat David airbase in northern Israel in contingency training for a possible emergency landing, as RAF planes routinely fly from Cyprus in order to carry out missions against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
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Brig. Gen. Ein-Dar said the exercise took place despite heightened tension in recent weeks on both Israel’s northern border and in Gaza. “Before we deploy for an exercise like this, we assess the situation carefully," he said, "and one of the advantages of air power is that if necessary, you can fold everything back up and be home in a day or two.”
While this was the first deployment of its kind, the RAF and other British military services are already well acquainted with Israeli capabilities. The British military has purchased a number of key Israeli weapons systems in recent years, including the Exactor land-based missile system, Watchkeeper UAVs and the Lightening targeting pods carried by RAF fighter jets.
RAF pilots are expected to arrive in Israel to join the IAF’s biannual Blue Flag exercise in the Negev. In 2020, they are expected to participate as observers, but in 2022 may deploy with aircraft as well.