Israel and seven other nations wrapped up on Thursday the 11-day Blue Flag military exercise, the largest aerial exercise ever held by the Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli pilots flew alongside counterparts from India, the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Italy and Germany, taking part in mock aerial battles over southern Israel, the army said in a statement.
Some 1,200 people — including commanders and technical personnel — took part in the exercise based in the Israeli Air Force’s Ovda base north of Eilat.
In the IDF’s statement, IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said the drill aimed to prepare the militaries for operations in the region’s complex and changing political landscape.
“Countries in the Middle East are constantly changing, with new actors and new organizations, and we need to understand how to deal with each one of them,” he said.
“If we wish to influence the reality that we will see a decade from now, we must prepare together to create common solutions and build effective international programs,” Norkin said, adding that hosting the large-scale drill was “undoubtedly an honor for the IDF and for Israel.”
It was Israel’s third time hosting Blue Flag, which began in 2013 and has grown larger each time.
Israeli Air Force officials said the objective of the exercise was three-fold: strengthen diplomatic relations between the countries, expose the participating militaries to new tactics and techniques, and improve military cooperation through exercises that require the air forces to work together.
In addition to being Israel’s largest aerial exercise, this drill is also marked by a number of other firsts.
The Indian, German and French delegations were all in Israel for the first time, while Poland, Greece, Italy and the United States have all participated in previous exercises.
India sent a C-130J Hercules transport plane and a contingent of special forces soldiers; the Germans sent six Eurofighters; the French sent five Mirage 2000AD fighter jets; the Italians sent five Tornado jets of two different variations; and the US, Poland and Greece sent seven, six and five F-16 fighter jets, respectively.
While Israel and Germany have trained together before, this was the first time in nearly 100 years, since World War I, that Luftwaffe fighter planes flew over Israel, then-Ottoman Palestine.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.