Jordanian combat pilots flew with Israel counterparts in recent US exercise
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Jordan warplanes said to have refueled from an Israeli tanker over the Atlantic

Jordanian combat pilots flew with Israel counterparts in recent US exercise

Rare acknowledgement by US official of intimate Israel-Jordan military ties comes as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also notes that ‘Arab pilots’ participated in summer’s ‘Red Flag’ exercises

Illustrative: Two Israeli Air Force F-15 Ra'ams practicing air maneuvers. (TSGT Kevin J. Gruenwald, USAF/Wikipedia)
Illustrative: Two Israeli Air Force F-15 Ra'ams practicing air maneuvers. (TSGT Kevin J. Gruenwald, USAF/Wikipedia)

Jordanian fighter pilots trained closely with their Israeli counterparts at a US-hosted air force exercise this summer, an American official said, 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 on Tuesday, came as Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon more vaguely confirmed the cooperation. Ya’alon said in a speech Tuesday 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.

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 Tuesday.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan in January 2014 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan in January 2014 (Kobi Gideon / GPO/FLASH90)

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.

The disclosure of Israeli-Jordanian air force cooperation came three days after another rare instance of publicly acknowledged cooperation between the Israeli military and an Arab neighbor: Israel on Saturday assisted Egyptian and Russian authorities in the aftermath of the deadly crash of a Russian passenger jet with 224 people on board in the Sinai Peninsula.

In this image released by the Prime Minister's office, Sherif Ismail, right, looks at the remains of a crashed passenger jet in Hassana Egypt, Friday, Oct. 31, 2015. A Russian aircraft carrying 224 people, including 17 children, crashed Saturday in a remote mountainous region in the Sinai Peninsula about 20 minutes after taking off from a Red Sea resort popular with Russian tourists, the Egyptian government said. There were no survivors. (Suliman el-Oteify, Egypt Prime Minister's Office via AP)
In this image released by the Prime Minister’s office, Sherif Ismail, right, looks at the remains of a crashed passenger jet in Hassana Egypt, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Suliman el-Oteify, Egypt Prime Minister’s Office via AP)

IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner said the army coordinated with Russia and Egypt and provided “aerial surveillance in the efforts to locate the Russian airplane that lost contact over the Sinai Peninsula.”

Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979.

For the past two weeks, the Israeli Air Force has been hosting the country’s largest ever international air exercise, drilling against a fictional enemy state.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (C), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi (R) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attend a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 3, 2015. (Issac Harari/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (C), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi (R) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attend a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 3, 2015. (Issac Harari/Flash90)

The “Blue Flag” exercise, a followup to “Red Flag” which was due to end on Tuesday, involves the Israeli Air Force, the United States Air Force, Greece’s Hellenic Air Force and the Polish Air Force, the captain in charge of all IAF exercises told The Times of Israel last week. 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 Tuesday. “Jordanian officials also declined comment on both drills,” it said.

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)
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