UAE’s air force chief to witness Israel’s largest-ever exercise

Published October 26, 2021
Emirati and Israeli flags fly upon the arrival of Israeli and US delegates at Abu Dhabi International Airport, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 31, 2020. — Reuters/File
Emirati and Israeli flags fly upon the arrival of Israeli and US delegates at Abu Dhabi International Airport, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 31, 2020. — Reuters/File

OVDA: Israel is holding its largest-ever air force exercise this week, joined by several Western countries and India, with the United Arab Emirates’s air force chief set to inspect the drills.

Amir Lazar, chief of Israeli air force operations, told reporters the drills “don’t focus on Iran”, but army officials have said the Islamic republic remains Israel’s top strategic threat and at the centre of much of its military planning.

Israel has held the so-called “Blue Flag” exercises every two years since 2013 in the Negev desert. Some preliminary exercises began last week.

Other nations taking part this year include France, the United States and Germany, as well as Britain, whose aircraft flew over Israeli territory for the first time since the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.

With more than 70 fighter jets — including Mirage 2000s, Rafales and F-16s — and some 1,500 personnel participating, the drills are the largest-ever held in Israel, Lazar told reporters at the southern Ovda airbase.

While UAE aircraft are not flying in the drills, Lazar said the visit from the country’s air force chief, set for Tuesday, was “very significant”.

The agreements that saw Israel normalise ties last year with several Arab countries, including the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, “opened a variety of opportunities”, Lazar said on Sunday.

Israel “was looking forward to hosting the Emirates air force” in the future, he added.

Shared concern over common foe Iran was widely seen as a factor that spurred the UAE towards Israel.

Lazar said the “Blue Flag” exercises in part aimed to synchronise different types of aircraft, piloted by different countries to counter armed drones and other threats.

In addition to Iran’s nuclear programme, Israel has sought to sound the alarm over a fleet of drones it claims Tehran is dispatching to its proxies across the Middle East, including in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran is focused “on building an army of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)”, Lazar said.

It was possible that “someday” the nations participating in the drill would be “working together” to counter the Iranian threat, he added.

Iran and Israel have exchanged sharp rhetoric recently, against the backdrop of efforts to renew talks to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Hosting UAE air force chief

Major General Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi, commander of the UAE air force, made the previously unannounced appearance during a multinational drill, Blue Flag, hosted by Israel.

“This is a truly historic day with tremendous significance for the future of cooperation between our air forces,” his Israeli counterpart, Major General Amikam Norkin, tweeted. The statement did not elaborate on how such cooperation might look.

Israeli media have suggested the UAE — along with Gulf neighbour Bahrain, which also formalised ties with Israel last year — may be interested in joint defences against Iranian-made drones.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly last month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “Iran plans to arm its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with hundreds, and then thousands of these deadly drones.” Iran denies arming any paramilitary forces across the region.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2021

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