Refused permission to fly in Turkish airspace, the Israel Air Force has its eyes on Europe and Asia as it searches for new training grounds for its fighter jets with an emphasis on long-range missions.

In recent years, due to the various threats it faces, primarily from Iran, the IAF has increased its long-range training missions. Most notable was in 2008, when 100 IAF aircraft flew over Greece in an exercise that was perceived as a dress rehearsal for a strike against Iran.

Until Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last winter, the IAF frequently flew over Turkey, and it had participated in several annual exercises with the Turkish Air Force. Following the offensive against Hamas and the deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations, Ankara has refused to allow Israel to deploy its fighter jets in Turkey.

“We are looking for new places where we can fly,” a senior IAF officer said recently.

As a result, the Defense Ministry is looking to continue an agreement it signed in 2006 that allows Israeli fighter jets to deploy in Romania. The IAF has sent jets to Romania for training in 2007 and plans to deploy aircraft there again later this year.

Last May, the French newsweekly L’Express reported that the IAF had staged military exercises over Gibraltar, about 4,000 km. away from Israel.

It is possible that the flyover by two IAF Gulfstream reconnaissance aircraft in Hungary last month was also part of an air force exercise in Europe. The appearance of Israeli military aircraft in Hungarian airspace triggered a political controversy that culminated this week in the dismissal of the head of the air traffic department at Hungary’s Transportation Ministry.

“Our ties with Turkey will never return to be the way they once were,” a senior defense official said on Thursday. “It is unlikely that under the current government in Ankara we will be allowed to fly there again.”

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