Blue and White Skies
Luftwaffe fighter planes flying over the Negev, Polish fighter pilots dipping below sea level over the Dead Sea, and Indian special forces sharing tips with their elite Israeli counterparts at the Nevatim and Palmachim air bases. Such activities make it easy to forget worries about our purported diplomatic isolation.
Since last Sunday, Israel has been hosting an 11-day military exercise that brings together the air forces of Germany, Poland, India, France, Italy, Greece and the US. Five different types of fighter jets have taken part, as have dozens of aircraft and more than 1,000 military personnel.
Hundreds of sorties were launched and dozens of tactical exercises were rehearsed. It’s called Blue Flag and it is the IAF’s largest aerial exercise ever. Blue Flag exercises were held in 2013 and 2015, but this year’s has outstripped previous ones in terms of sheer size.
“To see a German squadron commander arrive here to train with us and deliver a short address in Hebrew is a moment I will always remember,” Col. Itamar, the commander of Uvda Air Base told JNS.
This is not the first time Germany and Israel have trained together, but this was the first time since World War I that German planes sporting the Iron Cross have flown in these parts.
No less indicative of how Israel’s standing in the world has changed was the participation of India in Blue Flag.
Ties between New Delhi and Jerusalem have improved markedly since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. In July, Modi became the first serving Indian premier to visit Jerusalem. Other high-ranking Indian officials have also visited in the past year, including air force chief Arup Raha and navy head Sunil Lanba. In May, three Indian Navy warships docked in Haifa Port for a three-day visit aimed at strengthening the countries’ friendship.
A number of factors have come together to improve relations with the two countries. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Indian People’s Party has a natural affinity with Israel: both peoples face Muslim extremism as they strive to protect their own religious and cultural identity. Indians have also reached the conclusion that they have gained almost nothing from Muslim nations for championing the Palestinian cause and have lost much in terms of technological and military cooperation from keeping their diplomatic distance from Israel.
In varying degrees other countries have reached similar conclusions. Poland, France, Italy and Greece understand that the benefits gained from strengthening ties with Israel outshine the negative diplomatic ramifications with Muslim countries.
Even a number of Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have found common interests with Israel visa- vis Iran’s aggression and against the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. If in the past Israel was blamed for all of the ills of the Middle East and was portrayed as the main cause of unrest, today there is recognition both in the Arab world and beyond that Israel is one of the few (if not the only) nations in the region that can be relied upon to maintain stability and project order and power.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the Foreign Ministry portfolio, has taken advantage of this changing perception to foster ties with countries besides the US, Israel’s longtime and most import ally.
As noted by Dr. Dore Gold, who served in the past as director-general of the Foreign Ministry under Netanyahu, “there has been nothing less than a revolution in Israeli foreign policy over the last five years.
“From Asia to Africa to Latin America, Israel’s ties have expanded. And despite tensions with the EU in Brussels, Europeans understand that in the war against ISIS, Israel is a vital partner.” To paraphrase Gold, this year’s Blue Flag is a testament to how Netanyahu’s foreign policy emphasis has paid off.
Though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been entirely forgotten, the Syrian civil war, the breakup of Iraq, the war against ISIS and the struggle to contain Iranian aggression have resulted in a reassessment of the relative importance of this conflict in the larger scheme.
Israel’s foreign policy has taken advantage of these developments. Just look up in the sky.