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Israel, U.S. and Turkey Stage First Air Combat Drills

The growing three-way strategic alliance between Israel, the United States and Turkey reached new heights earlier this month when jet fighters from each nation’s air force began a major joint aerial training exercise in the skies over southern Turkey.

Dubbed Anatolian Eagle, the aerial maneuvers represent the first time the three militaries have come together for such mock-combat drills. In January, the thee countries held naval search-and-rescue operations off the Israeli coast.

During the two-week air exercises which were scheduled to end June 29, the three forces focused on joint operations and command procedures, taking advantage of the similar aircraft flown by each nation to prepare for the possibility of combined missions during future regional crises.

Besides honing their “dog-fighting” skills in air-to-air duels between the modern jets, the participating aircraft are to stage attacks on ground-based air-defense missile sites and conduct mid-air refueling in an area covering some 7,600 square miles near the Turkish city of Konya. While the participating states have played down the political significance of the event, insisting that it is not directed against any outside party, it is certain to send a deterrent message to hostile neighbors in the region.

The U.S. Air Force contributed F-16s, normally deployed on patrol over northern Iraq, from Turkey’s Incerlik air base. Israel reportedly arrived with a team of F-15 and F-16 fighters, helicopters and refueling tanker aircraft. The Israeli air force is no stranger in Turkey, frequently taking advantage of the wide-open airspace to practice combat tactics that are harder to rehearse in the more confined spaces over Israel. Turkey, which flies U.S.-made fighters improved with Israeli systems, is contributing the largest number of aircraft to the maneuvers.

The air forces of Israel and Turkey have flown together over each other’s territory since a bilateral defense alliance between Jerusalem and Ankara was formed in 1996. Likewise, American and Turkish forces regularly practice as NATO allies, while U.S. and Israeli air units have in recent years begun to exchange tactics and techniques during exercises over the Negev desert designed to test their planes and pilots against those of other countries.

The unprecedented tri-nation combination of combat forces represented by Anatolian Eagle, however, adds up to more than the sum of its parts. It serves to not only enhance the fighting capabilities of each side, but represents a unique symbol of regional stability and each party’s support for its partner’s security.

Near East Report