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Israeli, German air chiefs exchange medals after Jerusalem flyover

Officials hail ties between Jerusalem and Berlin; awards come as Luftwaffe takes part in large exercise in southern Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin, center, receives the Order of Merit of The Federal Republic of Germany from German Ambassador to Israel, Susanne Wasum-Rainer, and German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz on October 17, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin, center, receives the Order of Merit of The Federal Republic of Germany from German Ambassador to Israel, Susanne Wasum-Rainer, and German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz on October 17, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The commanders of the Israeli and German air forces exchanged medals of appreciation this week, following a joint flyby over Jerusalem on Sunday.

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin was presented the Order of Merit of The Federal Republic of Germany — the highest honor the president of Germany can bestow — by Berlin’s ambassador in Israel, Susanne Wasum-Rainer, in a ceremony on Sunday.

Wasum-Rainer said Norkin received the award from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for his “important and extraordinary contribution to deepening and widening the relationship between Israel and Germany.”

“Our two countries have succeeded in the past decades to develop a powerful partnership and strong friendship despite the pall of the Holocaust and against all historical odds,” she said.

A day later, the head of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, presented the Chief of Staff Medal of Appreciation to Inspector of the German Air Force Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz, the IDF said.

“The exercises, the joint projects, these are what stand behind this medal. The State of Israel and the Israeli military appreciate and value your contribution, and this is a great opportunity for us to express that appreciation,” Kohavi said at the ceremony on Monday.

“We’ve created an important connection on many fronts and in many fields, which is seen in the joint exercise being held now,” he said.

German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz, center, receives the Chief of Staff Medal of Appreciation from Israel Defense Forces head Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, left, and Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin on October 18, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Gerhartz arrived in Israel earlier this month for the IAF’s biennial Blue Flag exercise, a multinational aerial drill that kicked off on Sunday. At the start of the exercise, Israel and Germany conducted a flyby over the Knesset and the surrounding government complex, following a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial by Norkin and Gerhartz.

That overfly was a continuation of a commemorative campaign that began last summer when aircraft from the two countries flew together over the Dachau concentration camp and the Fuerstenfeldbruck airfield in Munich, where 11 Israeli Olympic athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists in 1972.

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. (Israel Defense Forces)

In his speech on Sunday, Gerhartz also hailed the cooperation between the two countries, saying it was of “great operational importance for the security of our soldiers.”

Wasum-Rainer also noted the practical value of the Israeli-German partnership, as seen in the ongoing aerial drill.

“Today, we are in the midst of the Blue Flag exercise in which Israeli and German fighter jets are training, wing-to-wing, in order to be as prepared as possible for the horrific security challenges facing us currently,” she said.

Israeli and German fighter jets fly over the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, during a flyby in a display of cooperation between the two countries and their armies, in Jerusalem on October 17, 2021. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

The joint flyby over the Knesset marked the first time that German aircraft have flown over Jerusalem since World War I.

Norkin, flying an F-15 fighter jet, led the Israeli aircraft, including an F-35 stealth fighter, while Gerhartz led the German planes, flying a Eurofighter jet that was painted in the colors of the German and Israeli flags.

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