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July 5, 2018: Israel’s growing alliance with Arab nations (mainly because of the mutual Iranian threat) has been accompanied by Israeli military participation in military exercises even further afield. In mid-2018 40 Israeli paratroopers participated, alongside American paratroopers in joint military exercises in Eastern Europe (Poland, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania). This was a first for Israel as is their participation in the 2018 RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) international military exercises. RIMPAC has been held since 1971 and is currently held every two years for nations that are dependent on freedom of the seas in the Pacific Ocean. During the Cold War (that ended in 1991) RIMPAC was about how to deal with the Russian threat. China was first invited to attend in 2014 but was not invited for 2018 because China is now seen as a threat because of their claims on the South China Sea. RIMPAC is the largest international naval exercises held anywhere. There are usually twenty or more nations participating plus other invited to observe. Israel often trains with naval forces from the United States, Greece and France in the Mediterranean. Not every nation that attends brings ships or aircraft and while Israel has a small but very capable navy their attendance at RIMPAC is more of an observer and comment sort of thing. Israeli weapons and electronics are sold to many Pacific Rim navies and air forces and that’s another reason for Israeli attendance.

The world-class performance of the Israeli Air Force is much better known and that is why Israel has participated in the international Red Flag air combat exercises in the United States since 2009. Israel had to cut back participation in the 2018 Red Flag (held in April) because of growing tensions with Iran and Iranian forces in Syria. But an Israeli aerial tanker did attend, along with an Israeli AWACS. The Israeli tanker refueled American fighters (F-15s and F-16s). Israel sent some F-16s but held back the F-15s. This was the first time Israel held the Red Flag exercises in Alaska.

Meanwhile, Israel has established its own version of international Red Flag. In 2017 Israel held its third “Blue Flag” exercises which, since 2013, have been held every two years. Blue Flag is based on the Red Flag exercises the United States has been hosting since 1975. These multinational Red Flag events were meant to improve coordination among allied air forces in combat. Because of that until the 1990s nearly all the foreign air forces were those closely allied with the United States and able to practice using classified equipment and techniques. Since the 1990s some of these international Red Flag have included frenemies and thus lacked the use of classified items. Often described as more diplomacy than training these unclassified exercises were nonetheless useful, at least to let these nations get a close look at each other’s aircraft and pilots.

Before Blue Flag, the Israeli Air Force has, since 2011, hosted foreign fighter pilots for tactical training using locally developed Red Flag technology. Israeli fighter pilots are considered the best trained in the world and one reason for that is the use of the best training methods available. As part of that Israel maintains a special training program, complete with pilots trained and equipped to operate as likely foes would, to train their own pilots. Initially, the Israelis hosted fighters and pilots for training from Poland, Italy and Greece. This was a good source of income and also good diplomacy as these were countries that Israel was on good terms with.

In 2013 Israel began holding “Blue Flag” exercises, which are free for participants and by invitation. This became a good way to note which countries Israel could depend on militarily. The 2017 Blue Flag had contingents from the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, India and Italy. Meanwhile, Israel continues to attend the American Red Flag events and recently those have included Middle Eastern nations that Israel is technically at war with (over the Palestinian issue). But because Israel and these other Middle Eastern nations have some common enemies (Iran and Islamic terror groups) and Israel is the most powerful and technologically advanced military power in the region a growing number of Arab states are openly working with the Israelis.

The growing Israeli participation in military exercises worldwide is in part driven by diplomacy because for decades the Arab countries have sought to isolate Israel diplomatically. That effort failed, in part because of growing Israeli success in developing and exporting world-class commercial and military technology and manufactured goods. The United States has long been a customer for this tech and so are a growing number of nations in Eastern Europe and bordering the Pacific. So now Israeli officers and troops are invited to places where only Israeli technology (or salesmen) had been welcome. RIMPAC and Red Flag are events where invitations do not need to add RSVP (French for respond with your decision to attend) because all those who are called show up (unless there is a schedule conflict or emergency).

 


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