The Lockheed Martin F35 fighter jet plane, also known as the Adir, in a test flight.
(photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN AERONAUTICS/ LIZ LUTZ)
Pilots from Israel, the US, the UAE and Italy began a joint drill in Greece on Tuesday, which also marked the second time crews from the IAF and the UAE have flown side-by-side.
A Hellenic Air Force statement said the “complex exercise,” named Iniohos 2017, will run from March 27 to April 6.
The Greek Navy and units from its army will also partake in the drill, Greek media reported.
The Americans have sent 12 F-16C Fighting Falcons and an estimated 220 support personnel to participate in the exercise between NATO allies and partner nations.
Joint Navy and Air Force drill (IDF Spokesperson)
“Multinational training engagements such as these strengthen our relationships, maintain joint readiness and interoperability, and reassure our regional allies and partners,” read a US Army statement.
Israel maintains broad cooperation with the Greek Air Force and has participated in several military exercises of air, sea, and ground forces with the Mediterranean country, especially following the downgrading of ties with Greece’s adversary, Turkey.
Last week, Israel participated in a three-day joint military exercise with Cyprus, in which the IAF tested Cypriot air defense.
The drill, named Onisilos- Gideon, was the largest since 2014, when the two countries held joint exercises.
The close ties between Israel, Greece and Cyprus are based on a number of shared strategic interests.
While all share economic interests – such as the ambitious undersea gas pipeline project from Israel to Cyprus to Crete to mainland Greece – the countries also share the hope of keeping the Russian-Iranian- Hezbollah axis from growing.
The three nations have recognized the need for new alliances and declared their willingness to widen their Mediterranean alliance to include other regional players – perhaps moderate Sunni-Arab countries such as Egypt and Gulf countries – despite strains due to the stalemate in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
But the declining importance of the Palestinian conflict as a significant issue between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council, along with the increased threat posed by Iranian expansion in the region, has led some Gulf monarchies to engage with Jerusalem.
In 2011, the UAE bought an estimated $300 million in military technology from Israel, and in 2015 allowed it to open up a permanent mission accredited to the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi.
Last year the IAF also flew alongside pilots from Pakistan in the Red Flag aerial exercise in the US.
In the 2015 exercise, it flew alongside pilots from Jordan and Singapore at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
But despite the increased interaction with the UAE, ties have not been upgraded and the Arab nation will not be participating in a large-scale multinational air exercise that the IAF will host in November.
More than 100 aircraft and hundreds of support crew from the US, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, India and Italy are expected to participate in the two-week Blue Flag drill.
The crews will land in Israel in the fall for the drill, which is aimed at honing their skills in planning, targeting and coordinated command and control.
According to Defense News, the year’s drill is designed to simulate a range of realistic engagements, and participants will likely conduct hundreds of sorties in Israeli airspace to practice air-to-air combat, ground strikes against both moving and stationary targets, and maneuvering amid threats posed by shoulder-launched missiles and surface-to-air batteries that can block aerial access to air crews.
Two weeks ago, Israeli jets were targeted by surface-toair missiles fired from Syrian regime air-defense batteries.
While no jets were lost, it was the most dangerous incident between the two countries since the war in Syria broke out in 2011.
Russia has also delivered to the war-torn country the advanced S-300 and S-400 air defense systems, which are capable of engaging multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 380 kilometers away, a distance that includes virtually all of Syria, as well as significant parts of Israel and other neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan.