The Blue Flag multinational air exercise, which is bringing together the most advanced aircraft of seven nations' armed forces over Israeli skies, entered its third day on Tuesday.
The exercise, which is slated to run through October 28, has fourth and fifth-generation fighter aircraft belonging to Germany, Italy, Britain, France, India, Greece, and the United States train together. It is being touted by Jerusalem as “Israel's largest and most advanced aerial exercise ever.”
In 2017, one senior IAF officer described the biennial exercise as “aerial diplomacy,” a demonstration by Israel that more countries than ever are willing to engage with it publicly as strategic allies, and put aside political considerations, like the concerns of Arab nations and the Palestinian issue.
The exercise will focus on “broadening and enhancing the operational capabilities of the participating forces,” with a focus on air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks, as well as evading ground-based air defense systems “and various operational scenarios in enemy territory,” the army said.
“This is the first deployment of a British fighter squadron in Israel since the establishment of the country, as well as the first-ever deployment of an Indian "Mirage" fighter squadron in Israel, and the first deployment of a French 'Rafale' fighter squadron in Israel,” the statement added.
"We are living in a very complicated region, and the threats to the State of Israel from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran are only increasing,” IAF commander Gen. Amikam Norkin said in a statement.
“Holding an international exercise in this current reality, while continuing our overt and covert operational activities on all fronts, is of utmost strategic importance and has extensive impact over the Israeli Air Force, the IDF, and the State of Israel,” he continued, stating that the current exercise “acts as a stepping-stone toward regional and international cooperation.”
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On Sunday, the first day of the exercise, Norkin and his German counterpart, Luftwaffe commander Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz, led a joint Israeli-German flyover of Jerusalem before attending a tour of the capital’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center, where the pair lit the eternal flame and laid a memorial wreath in honor of the victims of the Holocaust.
On Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi presented Gerhartz with a Medal of Appreciation “in recognition of his efforts to advance close cooperation between the Israeli and German armed forces” while German Ambassador Susanne Wasum-Rainer presented Norkin with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, one of the country’s highest national decorations.
“Israeli and German aircraft are training side-by-side to be best prepared for the mounting security challenges of our time,” Wasum-Rainer said at the ceremony. “The participation of Israeli aircraft in a German exercise last year was another meaningful step that demonstrated professionalism and the growing friendship between our soldiers.”