Israel is holding its largest-ever air force exercise this week, joined by several Western countries and India, with the United Arab Emirates’ air force chief set to inspect the drills.
Amir Lazar, chief of Israeli air force operations, told reporters the drills “don’t focus on Iran,” but army officials have said the Islamic republic remains Israel’s top strategic threat and at the center of much of its military planning.
Israel has held the “Blue Flag” exercises every two years since 2013 in the Negev desert.
Some preliminary exercises began last week.
Other nations taking part this year include France, the United States and Germany, as well as Britain, whose aircraft flew over Israeli territory for the first time since the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.
With more than 70 fighter jets — including Mirage 2000s, Rafales and F-16s — and about 1,500 personnel participating, the drills are the largest-ever held in Israel, Lazar told reporters at the southern Ovda airbase.
Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi, commander of the United Arab Emirates air force, landed in Israel on Monday, the Israeli army said in a statement.
While UAE aircraft are not flying in the drills, Lazar said the visit from the country’s air force chief was “very significant.”
Agreements that saw Israel normalize ties last year with several Arab countries, including the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, “opened a variety of opportunities,” Lazar said Sunday.
Israel “was looking forward to hosting the Emirates air force” in the future, he added.
Shared concern over common foe Iran was widely seen as a factor that spurred the UAE toward Israel.
Lazar said the “Blue Flag” exercises in part aimed to synchronize different types of aircraft, piloted by various countries to counter armed drones and other threats.
In addition to Iran’s nuclear program, Israel has sought to sound the alarm over a fleet of drones it claims Tehran is dispatching to its proxies across the Middle East, including in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
Iran is focused “on building an army of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” Lazar said.
It was possible that “some day” the nations participating in the drill would be “working together” to counter the Iranian threat, he added.
Iran and Israel have exchanged sharp rhetoric recently against the backdrop of efforts to renew talks to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.