France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Poland and the US joined the Israeli Air Force for mock battles over Ovda air base, just a few miles north of the resort town of Eilat and the Red Sea. More than 1,200 people took part in the exercises, along with 61 aircraft flying hundreds of sorties.
Together, the eight nations made up the country of Falcon Land, waging war against their hated enemies Nowhere Land — played by a squadron of IAF F-16 fighter jets.
In a statement, IAF top dog Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said that the drill was meant to help prepare the participating militaries for operations in the mutable, complex political and military landscape of the Middle East. "Countries in the Middle East are constantly changing, with new actors and new organizations, and we need to understand how to deal with each one of them," he said.
"If we wish to influence the reality that we will see a decade from now, we must prepare together to create common solutions and build effective international programs," Norkin went on to say. He added that hosting the drill was "undoubtedly an honor for the IDF and for Israel."
The statement added that the exercise had three purposes: to strengthen diplomatic ties between the participants, to expose the various air forces to different tactical doctrines and techniques and improve military cooperation.
Blue Flag 2017 was the third biennial event, and each exercise has been exponentially larger than the last. The first exercise involved American, Israeli and Italian pilots, while the second included those three nations along with Greece and Poland. Italy brought five Tornado jets while Greece, Poland and the US brought 18 F-16s between the three of them.
This year's newcomers included France, Germany and India, major gets as all three are among the top 10 largest defense spenders in the world. The French Air Force, which hasn't been seen over the skies of Israel since 1956, brought five Mirage 2000AD fighter jets. India brought a C-130J Hercules transport plane and a retinue of special forces soldiers to man it.
The Luftwaffe came along with a half-dozen Eurofighters. The participation of the Germans was a subject of some controversy, as it would be the first time since World War I that German planes had been seen over the territory.
Compounding the issue is that the symbol of the modern Luftwaffe is the Iron Cross: a symbol of Germany for centuries, but also heavily associated with the Nazis whose highest military honor was an Iron Cross medal.
"Seeing the Luftwaffe airplanes [adorned with Iron Crosses] entering our hangars — it's something I'll always remember," said Col. Itamar, commander of Ovda air base, at the beginning of the exercises. "It's sensitive. It's emotional. The past can't be changed."
However, Itamar added, the two nations have been able to put history behind them and work to their mutual benefit.