Jordanian air force pilots pay ‘working visit’ to Israel
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Jordanian air force pilots pay ‘working visit’ to Israel

Amman's military ties with Israel come under scrutiny after one airman refuses to join delegation, is booted from the service

Israeli and foreign fighter jets fly in formation through cloudy skies over the Negev desert during the 'Blue Flag' exercise at Ovda Airfield near Eilat on October 27, 2015. (Israeli Air Force)
Israeli and foreign fighter jets fly in formation through cloudy skies over the Negev desert during the 'Blue Flag' exercise at Ovda Airfield near Eilat on October 27, 2015. (Israeli Air Force)

Jordanian media reports that pilots from the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a “working visit” to Israel recently.

One pilot, Majdi Asmadi, refused to join the delegation and was subsequently ejected from the air force, according to the reports, which were cited on Wednesday by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The reports quote Asmadi saying he had joined the air force in order to fight Israel, not visit it or cooperate with it.

His removal, like the trip itself, was not publicized by officials in Amman. Asmadi reportedly did not receive severance pay after his removal.

His actions earned him widespread praise on Arab social media networks, and sparked a debate within Jordan over the country’s military cooperation with Israel.

Jordanian fighter pilots trained closely with their Israeli counterparts at a US-hosted air force exercise this summer, an American official said last month in a rare acknowledgment of intimate military cooperation between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbor to the east.

The US official’s comments, reported by Reuters, came as Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon more vaguely confirmed the cooperation in early November. Ya’alon said in a speech that Israeli pilots trained with unspecified Arab pilots in the course of July’s “Red Flag,” the latest in a series of joint combat training exercises frequently hosted by the US in Alaska.

Israeli and foreign fighter jets fly in formation over the Red Sea during the "Blue Flag" exercise at Ovda Airfield near Eilat on October 27, 2015. (Israeli Air Force)
Israeli and foreign fighter jets fly in formation over the Red Sea during the “Blue Flag” exercise at Ovda Airfield near Eilat on October 27, 2015. (Israeli Air Force)

Egypt is known to have participated in previous “Red Flag” exercises; Jordan is not.

“There were Arab pilots there too, and pilots from the various branches of the United States military and other countries,” Ya’alon said.

The unnamed US official quoted by Reuters elaborated that Jordanian warplanes flew out with Israel’s jets in the course of the drill, and even refueled from an Israeli tanker over the Atlantic Ocean.

In late October, the Israeli Air Force hosted the country’s largest-ever international air exercise, drilling against a fictional enemy state.

The “Blue Flag” exercise, a followup to “Red Flag” in the US, involves the Israeli Air Force, the United States Air Force, Greece’s Hellenic Air Force and the Polish Air Force, the head of IAF training exercises told The Times of Israel in late October. A number of other countries, including Germany, also sent pilots and officers to observe the exercise but did not take part.

“Asked whether Jordan… was among the Blue Flag participants, Israeli military spokesmen declined to comment,” Reuters reported on November 3. “Jordanian officials also declined comment on both drills,” it said.

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, and quietly maintain intimate security and economic relations. But they are not known to have ever acknowledged conducting joint air force training.

While the peace treaty is not popular among ordinary Jordanians, and is routinely criticized during flareups in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel and Jordan share many regional concerns, including over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the threat posed by Islamic State.

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