Germany welcomed military aircraft from Israel to its airspace on Thursday in their first joint combat exercises in German territory, as both air forces praised the intensive cooperation between the two countries.
“It was very emotional for us when, one after the other, the first Israeli jets arrived here in German airspace,” a spokesman for the German Luftwaffe told the German news agency dpa.
“Nowadays, we have a very intense partnership with the Israelis,” spokesman Thorsten Weber said. “We work closely together, we do exercises together, German soldiers are being trained in Israel.”
Israeli Air Force pilot Lt. Colonel O., who didn’t give his full name in line with the military branch’s regulations, said that during the exercises he remembered the difficult past of Germans and Jews while also looking to the future.
During the Third Reich, Nazi Germany murdered 6 million European Jews and others in the Holocaust. Relations between Israel and Germany were difficult in the first decades after the end of the war, but have been growing closer together over the years.
“I think all of us are feeling it right in the heart, how deep the past is,” O. told The Associated Press. “But we’re looking into the future and are happy for the opportunity of flying together.”
He added that the cooperation of the two air forces was a good thing for both countries.
Nowadays, Germany is one of Israel’s staunchest supporters.
Still, most interactions between the two nations carry a deeper symbolic significance because of the horrors of the Holocaust, which ended 75 years ago when Germany surrendered in World War II.
The Israeli pilots arrived at the base in western Germany on Monday for two weeks of exercises. They are conducting training with the German air force for the first week, and also with planes from the Hungarian air force in the second week.
Their planes include a group of six F-16s, two Gulfstreams and two Boeing 707 tanker jets. A total of around 180 Israeli personnel are involved.
On Tuesday, Israeli and German jets flew over the former Nazi concentration camp Dachau in a tribute to the more than 40,000 Jews killed there in the Holocaust.
They also flew over the nearby Fuerstenfeldbruck airfield near Munich to pay tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes killed in the Munich massacre attack during the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Two athletes were killed and another nine taken hostage by the Palestinian terror group Black September from the Olympic Village on September 5, 1972. During a botched rescue attempt at the airfield by German police, the other athletes, along with five of their captors and a West German police officer, were killed.
It is the first time ever that the Israeli Air Force has participated in such exercises in Germany.
Luftwaffe chief Ingo Gerhartz earlier this week called the joint exercise “a sign of our friendship today.”
He said it was also a reminder that Germany has an enduring responsibility “to fight anti-Semitism with the utmost consistency” because of its Nazi past.
The IAF said the mission, which runs until August 28, will give its pilots a chance to train in unfamiliar surroundings and will include simulated dogfights, air-to-ground battles and missile threats.
Israeli pilots will also take part in aerial maneuvers with Germany and other NATO members during the deployment.
Germany and Israel have stepped up their military cooperation in recent years, with the Luftwaffe taking part in joint exercises in the Israeli Negev desert in 2019.
The homage comes as Germany grapples with an upsurge in anti-Semitic and far-right violence, 75 years after the defeat of the Nazi regime.
In the eastern city of Halle last year, a neo-Nazi shot dead two people after trying but failing to storm a synagogue.
The attack prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to say Germany needed “to do more” to protect Jewish people.
In June, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of Germany’s elite KSK commando force after revelations that some of its members harbored neo-Nazi sympathies.