By Arie Egozi
Tel Aviv: Israel will tighten its operational relations with other air forces as part of a new “Power Diplomacy” effort, to try and deter Iran from making the last step toward a nuclear bomb.
According to a paper published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), the Blue Flag 2021 air force exercise and the gathering in Israel of air force commanders from several countries – including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – represents an impressive milestone in establishing an unprecedented level of Israeli military cooperation. The paper says that this international cooperation has now been extended to include joint naval operations with United States Central Command (CENTCOM). The Israeli Navy and the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet held a joint exercise for the first time in September in the Red Sea, marking the transition of cooperation to CENTCOM. Moreover, this was followed by a joint special forces exercise with the US Marine Corps near Eilat and the extraordinary step of a joint naval exercise with the Israeli Navy’s Red Sea flotilla, Emirati and Bahraini ships, and the US Fifth Fleet.
In September, CENTCOM officially took control of the military’s relationship with Israel, taking over from European Command (EUCOM). In addition to improving military capabilities, Israel’s military diplomacy also has strategic value in consolidating the country’s role as a member of good standing in what might be termed the like-minded Defence community. This community enhances Israel’s stature among its regional partners, undermines efforts to isolate it, and sends a message to hostile forces.
The fifth biannual Blue Flag multinational air force exercise held from October 17-28 at the Uvda Air Force Base in the Negev was the largest and most significant since the exercise series began in 2013. The exercise is modelled after the US Air Force’s largest combat training exercise, Red Flag, held at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
According to the paper written by Dr Eran Lerman, Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, “Eight air forces took part in Blue Flag officially, namely – the Israeli Air Force, the US Air Force, Britain’s Royal Air Force (for the first time), and the Indian, German, French, Italian, and Greek air forces. In addition, due to the leak of an unauthorized photo, it appears that the Jordanian Air Force participated as well, and probably not for the first time. Overall, 37 guest planes and some 1500 troops arrived in Israel for the exercise. The drills focused on new threats such as cooperation against a virtual enemy state, “Dragonland” that resembled Syria because of its dense air-defence profile. The exercise also included defence against intruding enemy aircraft and strikes against the enemy’s rear areas defended by surface-to-air missile batteries, similar to the US Patriot and Russian S400 missile defence systems.”
Lerman writes that the participants carried out close air support for ground forces and the escorting of transport aircraft for in-depth raiding forces. The exercise utilized the capabilities of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter aircraft, which can communicate with and support friendly forces.
“The exercise, and the coverage it received, demonstrate that the IDF’s cooperation with other military forces has become institutionalized. In recent years, a profound transformation has taken place regarding the overt presence of Israel as a legitimate and vital part of the defence of like-minded nations,” stated Dr Lerman in his paper.
The senior researcher writes that once Israel was transferred to CENTCOM’s area of responsibility, there emerged a pattern of participation in operational activities, not just exercises. For example, Israeli fighter jets have escorted US bombers on their way to deployment in the region. “The appointment of a permanent liaison officer of the IDF at CENTCOM headquarters in Florida is a pattern that is likely to be enhanced. Unlike cooperation with EUCOM within NATO operations in the Mediterranean, which were foiled in recent years by a Turkish veto, work with CENTCOM is not necessarily subject to the consent of all other regional players.”