Israel is holding its largest-ever air force exercise this week, joined by several Western countries and India, with the United Arab Emirates’ air force chief set to inspect the drills.
Amir Lazar, chief of Israeli air force operations, told reporters the drills “don’t focus on Iran,” but army officials have said the Islamic republic remains Israel’s top strategic threat and at the center of much of its military planning.
Israel has held the “Blue Flag” exercises every two years since 2013 in the Negev desert.
Some preliminary exercises began last week.
Other nations taking part this year include France, the United States and Germany, as well as Britain, whose aircraft flew over Israeli territory for the first time since the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.
With more than 70 fighter jets — including Mirage 2000s, Rafales and F-16s — and about 1,500 personnel participating, the drills are the largest-ever held in Israel, Lazar told reporters at the southern Ovda airbase.
Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi, commander of the United Arab Emirates air force, landed in Israel on Monday, the Israeli army said in a statement.
While UAE aircraft are not flying in the drills, Lazar said the visit from the country’s air force chief was “very significant.”
Agreements that saw Israel normalize ties last year with several Arab countries, including the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, “opened a variety of opportunities,” Lazar said Sunday.
Israel “was looking forward to hosting the Emirates air force” in the future, he added.
In addition to the nations actively participating in the exercise, several other countries sent military personnel to observe the drill. Besides the UAE, representatives from Japan, Romania, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia, South Korea and Croatia will visit.
The Israeli Air Force hopes to expand participation in the biennial Blue Flag exercise to other countries in the region in the future.
Alongside the Blue Flag exercise, Israel will also host a conference on Tuesday for commanders of the air forces operating the F-35 fighter jet at the IAF’s Nevatim air base, which will be led by the United States.
Several foreign countries sent fighter jets to participate in the drill this year, including the United States, Germany, Italy and Greece — all of which have taken part in previous Blue Flag exercises — as well as the United Kingdom, France and India.
The Israeli troops acting as Dragonland, which was named for the 115th Squadron, used Patriot missile defense batteries and other systems to simulate Russian-made air defenses, like the SA-2, SA-6, SA-3, SA-8 and SA-22, and F-16 and F-15 fighter jets to simulate the Russian or Soviet-era planes, as well as various attack helicopters and drones. Soldiers were also positioned on the ground to act as enemy troops, Lazar said.
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