With no landings, Israeli jets train for long-range missions in Greece

40 IAF planes take part in exercise with Hellenic Air Force, practicing in-air refueling

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Forty Israeli planes participated in an aerial exercise in Greece’s skies last week, practicing long-range operations and missions over unfamiliar terrain, the military said Monday.

The Israeli Air Force launched the large-scale exercise last Sunday, meant to simulate a war on multiple fronts, including a significant bombing campaign against targets in the Gaza Strip.

As part of the exercise, 40 fighter jets, refueling planes and transport planes traveled to Greece, the military said.

“In the exercise, we traveled far from home to unfamiliar terrain in order to carry out a rigidly defined and precise mission, under very challenging conditions,” said the commander of the air force’s 105th Air Squadron, which operates F-16 fighter jets.

Israeli fighter jets take part in an aerial exercise over Greece in June 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“This capability that we have, to take all of our vehicles and travel far in order to carry out a missions and then return, is something that we… are prepared to use any time it’s needed,” he said.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said the purpose of the exercise was to practice long-range missions in which dozens of aircraft take part.

“The drill took place entirely in the air, without landings, and included two sorties in daylight,” the military said.

The IDF said a central aspect of the exercise was to test the air force’s ability to operate in multiple fronts at the same time. In total, hundreds of fighter jets, helicopters, transport planes, and other aircraft took part in the multi-day exercise, which also included night missions.

The aerial drill simulated warfare in the Gaza Strip, as well as on the northern front — in Lebanon and Syria — the army said.

As part of the exercise, the air force simulated a large-scale conflict in the Gaza Strip, where tensions were ramping up after a massive flareup the week before.

“As part of the southern portion of the exercise, dozens of fighter jets simulated strikes on hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip in a short period of time,” the military said in a statement.

Though it said the timing of the exercise was not tied to the recent unrest in the Palestinian enclave, the army’s statement about the drill could be seen as a tacit threat to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

The exercise also included actual sorties over the Gaza Strip, with Israeli aircraft filming the territory.

The IDF added that the air force also practiced giving support to troops in the case of a ground invasion of Gaza.

Flames from rockets fired by Palestinians are seen over Gaza Strip heading toward Israel, in the early morning of May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Israel last fought a war with Hamas-led fighters in Gaza in 2014, the 50-day Operation Protective Edge. In recent months, tensions along the border have ballooned, including a day in late May that saw heavy mortar and rocket fire out of the Strip and Israeli bombing of dozens of sites in Gaza.

Officials warned the flareup could have easily ignited a larger conflict, something both sides say they do not seek.

The exercises came amid peak tensions in the Gaza border area, following multiple exchanges of mortar and rocket fire and violence along the security fence.

Friday saw violent demonstrations along the border, with some 10,000 Gazans taking part, according to the IDF.

Rioters threw explosives at Israeli troops and tried to launch them across the border with kites and balloons. The military responded with tear gas and live fire, killing four, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

On May 29, Palestinian terror groups launched more than 100 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel and the military responded by striking more than 65 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad sites in the Strip.

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