German photographer spills the beans: Jordan flew in IDF aerial drill

Amman’s participation in the massive Blue Flag exercise had been a secret… until a German military cameraman posted a photo of a Jordanian fighter jet on Instagram

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative photo of two F-16 Royal Jordanian Air Force jets (photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, by Caycee Cook, US Air Force, Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative photo of two F-16 Royal Jordanian Air Force jets (photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, by Caycee Cook, US Air Force, Wikimedia Commons)

A German military photographer posted two pictures of Jordanian fighter jets taking part in this month’s massive Blue Flag aerial exercise on social media on Friday, apparently inadvertently revealing that the kingdom had participated in the Israeli-hosted drill.

Until the cameraman, Falk Bärwald, posted the photographs on his Instagram account, Jordan’s participation in the two-week-long exercise had officially been kept a secret.

In one photo, a Jordanian F-16 fighter jet can be seen riding along a runway in the Israeli Air Force’s Ovda base, just north of Eilat, while a French Rafale jet flies above it. In the second, a Jordanian F-16 could be seen taking off from the same base.

The German military photographer later deleted his post, though the images had already been downloaded and shared widely on Twitter, Telegram, and other social media platforms.

In years past, aviation analysts and enthusiasts have spotted what appeared to be Jordanian planes taking part in the Blue Flag exercise — in both 2017 and 2019 — though these have not necessarily been definitive, as commercially available plane-tracking software has been known to show false readings.

Photographs showing Jordanian F-16 fighter jets taking part in the Israeli Air Force’s Blue Flag exercise, which were shared by a German military photographer on Instagram on October 29, 2021. (Falk Bärwald)

Though Israel and Jordan, who signed a peace treaty 27 years ago this week, are known to work closely militarily, Amman generally looks to downplay this cooperation, in light of the Jordanian public’s general antipathy toward Israel. Seeing more practical value in the military cooperation than in the openness about its ties with Jordan, Israel generally respects Amman’s requests for discretion.

The Blue Flag exercise kicked off on October 14 and concluded on Thursday. Eight foreign militaries participated in the drill, which Israeli Air Force officials said was the largest and most advanced aerial exercise that has been held in Israel to date. In addition, representatives from a number of other foreign countries, including the commander of the United Arab Emirates air force, came to Israel to observe the drill.

The drill pit the nine participating air forces against a fictional enemy — Dragonland — requiring them to conduct a variety of missions, while facing enemy aircraft, surface-to-air missiles and other threats.

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