JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli fighter pilots recently trained with Arab counterparts in the United States, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday, referring to a joint exercise that a U.S. official described as involving Jordanian planes.
The remarks by Yaalon followed Israel’s disclosure that its air force helped locate a Russian passenger plane that crashed in the Egyptian Sinai on Saturday – both rare departures from a policy of keeping Israeli-Arab military cooperation under wraps.
Bruised by an Iranian nuclear deal with world powers that it had lobbied against, and hoping to skirt deadlocked Palestinian peace talks through wider regional engagement, Israel has been hinting it enjoys burgeoning secret ties with some Arab powers.
In a speech, Yaalon alluded to Israel finding common cause with countries opposed to Iran and its allies such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
Mentioning Israel’s participation in “Red Flag”, a U.S.-hosted air force exercise in July, Yaalon said: “There were Arab pilots there too, and pilots from the various branches of the United States military and other countries.”
He did not elaborate. But a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Jordan took part in Red Flag, sending warplanes that flew out with Israel’s jets and refueled from an Israeli tanker over the Atlantic Ocean.
Last month, Israel hosted a follow-up exercise, “Blue Flag”, saying U.S., Polish, Greek and unspecified other air forces had taken part. Asked whether Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, was among the Blue Flag participants, Israeli military spokesmen declined to comment.
Jordanian officials also declined comment on both drills.
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