Israel holds largest-ever Air Force drill with UAE visit

The bi-annual 'Blue Flag' wargame enters its second week with more than 70 fighter jets — including Mirage 2000s, Rafales and F-16s — and some 1,500 personnel from all over the world, with Emirati air force chief set to inspect the exercise
Ynet, AFP|
Israel is holding its largest-ever air force exercise this week, joined by several Western countries and India, with the United Arab Emirates's air force chief set to inspect the drills.
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  • Ibrahim Nasser Muhammed al-Alawi's visit in the first by an Emirati military official to the Jewish state since both countries signed the U.S.-brokered normalization agreements last year.
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    תרגיל Blue Flag הבינלאומי
    תרגיל Blue Flag הבינלאומי
    Emirati air force chief Ibrahim Nasser Muhammed al-Alawi, center-right, lands in Israel and meets with Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin, center-left, to observe the IAF's Blue Flag exercise on October 25, 2021
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    H was greeted with an honor guard reception managed by Israel’s Air Force Commander Major General Amikam Nurkin at the country’s Palmachim Air Force Base.
    A statement released by I announced the pair of military leaders discussed opportunities for future collaboration between their respective air forces at the event.
    “I thank you, Maj. Gen. Al Alawi, for this visit to Israel. This is a truly historic day with tremendous significance for the future of cooperation between our air forces," Nurkin said.
    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.
    The 'Blue Flag' Air Force drill
    (Video: Roi Idan, IDF Spokeperson's Unit)
    Israel has held the so-called "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 some 1,500 personnel participating, the drills are the largest-ever held in Israel, Lazar told reporters at the southern Ovda airbase.
    3 View gallery
    תרגיל Blue Flag הבינלאומי
    תרגיל Blue Flag הבינלאומי
    An Indian Mirage 2000 fighter jet
    (Photo: AFP)
    While UAE aircraft are not flying in the drills, Lazar said the visit from the country's air force chief, set for Tuesday, was "very significant".
    The 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.
    Shared concern over common foe Iran was widely seen as a factor that spurred the UAE towards Israel.
    Lazar said the "Blue Flag" exercises in part aimed to synchronize different types of aircraft, piloted by different countries to counter armed drones and other threats.
    3 View gallery
     תרגיל Blue Flag הבינלאומי
     תרגיל Blue Flag הבינלאומי
    An Israeli F-15 and a German Eurofighter fly together near Jerusalem as part of a demonstration of the close ties between Israel and Germany on October 17, 2021
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    In addition to Iran's nuclear program, Israel has sought to sound the alarm over a fleet of drones it claims Tehran is dispatching to its proxies across the Middle East, including in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
    Iran is focused "on building an army of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)", Lazar said.
    It was possible that "someday" the nations participating in the drill would be "working together" to counter the Iranian threat, he added.
    Iran and Israel have exchanged sharp rhetoric recently, against the backdrop of efforts to renew talks to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
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