The IDF’s Blue Flag aerial exercises being held this week at Ovda Air Base in the Negev has been touting a number of firsts:
It’s the first time the Patriot missile defense system has been deployed in Blue Flag; the first time France and India have joined the multinational operation; and the first time German military planes with the Iron Cross emblazoned on them have been seen over Israeli skies.
That last item could not help but get special attention. As Col. Itamar (the base’s commander whose last name can’t be used for security reasons) told The Times of Israel on Thursday:
“Seeing the Luftwaffe airplanes entering our hangars — it’s something I’ll always remember.
“It’s sensitive. It’s emotional. The past can’t be changed,” he added, notwithstanding the friendly bilateral ties that have developed between Israel and Germany.
Lt. Col. Gero von Fritschen, who led the German delegation, acknowledged the sensitivity of his country’s participation in military exercises on Israeli soil, referring to it as “aerial diplomacy.”
“I’m honored to be here,” von Fritschen said. “We’ve had a warm welcome. Even when we are just sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Eilat in our uniforms, people come up and talk to us.”
Another senior IAF officer told The Jerusalem Post that the German pilots, flying the Eurofighter Typhoon, are highly skilled.
This year’s 11-day Blue Flag, which started on Sunday, is the third and the biggest of the biennial series.