Blue Flag: Israel’s Fighter-Jet Diplomacy

The Fellowship  |  November 10, 2017

Every two years, the Israeli Air Force hosts “Blue Flag,” an international exercise in which air forces from other nations travel to the Holy Land to practice their aeronautic skills. Much like the American-hosted “Red Flag” drills, this event helps forge bonds between multi-national allies. Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer reports on this year’s “Blue Flag,” which shows more countries are accepting and engaging the Jewish state:

As symbols of raw military power and historical memories go, few things could have beaten the sight of a Eurofighter jet, carrying the cross of the German Luftwaffe lining up beside an F-15 with the Israeli Air-Force’s blue Star of David, before both of them screamed into the sky over the Negev Desert for an air-combat exercise.

The first-ever visit of German warplanes to Israel was not the only historic sight on display this week at the Israel Air Force’s Uvda airbase. Blue Flag 2017, the largest international military exercise ever to take place in Israel also saw the return of French fighter jets to Israeli skies, in the shape of Mirage 2000Ds. The last time they were here was in 1956, when, as part of the secret plans leading to the Suez campaign, Israel cooperated with France and Britain against Nasser’s Egypt, and French squadrons deployed to Israeli airbases. Another historical first was the arrival of an Indian C-130J transport aircraft, along with a squadron of “Garud” special-force operators, here for the first joint Israeli-Indian exercise.

Along with three newcomers, four more nations that have attended Blue Flag exercises in the past – the United States, Italy, Greece and Poland –  are represented at Blue Flag 2017. The operational and logistical challenges of such an exercise are unprecedented for the IAF – hosting 35 aircraft from seven different countries at its southernmost base, along with another 26 aircraft of five different IAF squadrons from other bases. Uvda is the IAF’s only base dedicated mainly to training, rather than hosting operational squadrons, and is used to having air-crew and maintenance teams of other squadrons visiting. However, as one of the commanders of the exercise explained, “I can’t fly the international crews home for the night or put them up at the relatively Spartan facilities on base. We want them to go home with a positive experience on all fronts.” Most of the 700 foreign personnel in the exercise are therefore being hosted for the two weeks of Blue Flag in hotels in nearby Eilat.

The pattern of the exercise, to a large degree, resembles that of the international Red Flag exercises, which are hosted by the United States Air Force…