Israeli jets to join large international drill in Greece; Saudi, Kuwait to observe

Air forces from nine countries to take part in annual Iniochos exercise, simulating airstrikes, evading air defenses, search and rescue

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Israeli F-16 military jet taxis on the airstrip of the military airport of Andravida in southern Greece, as part of the Hellenic Air Force's 'INIOCHOS 2021' multinational aviation exercise on April 18, 2021. (ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)
An Israeli F-16 military jet taxis on the airstrip of the military airport of Andravida in southern Greece, as part of the Hellenic Air Force's 'INIOCHOS 2021' multinational aviation exercise on April 18, 2021. (ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

The Israeli Air Force is slated to participate in a major international aerial exercise hosted by Greece later this month, simulating operations against air defense systems, large airstrikes, and rescue operations.

Seven other countries are joining Greece in its Iniochos exercise this year: the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Cyprus, Slovenia, and Austria. The exercise will begin on March 28 and is scheduled to last through April 8.

Egypt, Albania, Austria, North Macedonia, the United Kingdom, India, Kuwait, Croatia, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia will be sending observers to the drill.

According to the Hellenic Air Force, the drill is meant to simulate a variety of scenarios, including evading attacks from surface-to-air missiles, strikes on land-based targets, search and rescue, and protecting or attacking an airborne target.

Dozens of planes from each country are participating in the exercise, which is being held largely along the Greek coast and over the Mediterranean.

The Israeli delegation includes F-16 fighter jets, Boeing 707 refueling planes, and Gulfstream G550 surveillance planes, according to the Hellenic Air Force. The Israel Defense Forces declined to confirm specific details.

In previous years, Israel has used aerial exercises in Greece in order to practice against and learn about the Russian S-300 air defense system, which is also used by Iran and Syria. It was not clear if the system would be included in this year’s exercise.

The drill — which Israel has participated in annually since 2015 — comes amid rising tension in the Middle East after Iran launched a dozen ballistic missiles at what it claimed without evidence was an Israeli “strategic center” near the US consulate in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil.

That attack was thought to be a response to the deaths of two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders in an alleged Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital Damascus. The IRGC warned that Israel “will pay” for the deaths of officers Ehsan Karbalaipour and Morteza Saidnejad. It also came following reports of an Israeli strike on an IRGC drone warehouse in north-west Iran.

Meanwhile, Washington has said it is “close” to a deal with Iran on reviving the 2015 pact that saw Western powers provide sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program, the latest sign of advancement following prolonged deadlock. Israel argues that such a deal would enable Iran to ramp up support for its proxies in the Middle East, if sanctions are eased.

More notably, the drill comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to Channel 12 news, Israel and the other participating nations will be implementing initial lessons from the war in Europe during the exercise.

While none of the participating nations border Russia, the network said the drill would demonstrate their partnership and unity amid the possibility the war in Ukraine may spread to other countries. “It is a signal to Putin that these countries are working together to defend their sovereignty,” the report said.

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