The skies above the Negev Desert in southern Israel have been especially active as of late, as the country hosts largest ever iteration of its premier multi-national aerial exercise, nicknamed Blue Flag. The event is showcasing the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, as well as those of its allies, at time when tensions in the region are running high, including, but not limited to, a unprecedented crackdown in Saudi Arabia, the ongoing crisis in Yemen, talk of a war between Saudis and Lebanon, widespread instability in Syria, and ongoing concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programs.
Blue Flag 2017, which began on Nov. 6, 2017, is the third iteration of the biennial gathering and by far the largest in both size and scope, with more than 1,000 personnel in attendance. Seven countries – France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Poland, and the United States – have sent nearly three dozen aircraft to join their Israeli counterparts at Uvda Air Force Base. The Greek, Polish, and U.S. air forces all sent F-16 fighter jets of various types – five, six, and seven aircraft, respectively – while the French dispatched five Mirage 2000Ds, the Germans contributed six Eurofighter Typhoons, and the Italians deployed five Tornado IDS. The Indian Air Force sent only a single C-130J Hercules transport plane and a contingent of special operations forces. Israel’s own F-15 and F-16 fighter jets are both taking part.