The Israeli Air Force is conducting joint drills with the US military in the country’s south, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has announced.
According to the IDF, the drills, which kicked off Tuesday, involve F-35 stealth fighter jets, and were approved because of the lack of direct person-to-person contact on the ground between the two militaries. The exercises are expected to run until Thursday, and are part of the militaries’ general 2020 training schedule, and not a response to any specific threat, the IDF says.
The drills come following the cancelation of two earlier planned Israeli-US exercises amid fears of spreading COVID-19 among military personnel. Earlier this month, the countries cancelled Juniper Cobra, a major biennial five-day combined arms training exercise inaugurated in 2001, and scrapped plans for drills between US paratroopers ordinarily stationed in Italy and Israeli ground forces.
Israel has 22 F-35s in its inventory, with 50 more on order. The IDF became the first in the world to use the fighter in combat in 2018.
The IDF estimates that about two dozen of its troops are infected with COVID-19. Earlier this month, the military quarantined over 1,260 military personnel amid fears that they may had come into contact with persons infected by the virus.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of his cabinet that the government would be “increasing restrictions on the population” amid concerns that as many as 10,000 Israelis may succumb to COVID-19-related complications. The country’s Minister of Health Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov warned that Israel could face a situation similar to that affecting Italy if extreme measures were not taken, including restrictions on all movement not related to vital work or to stocking up on supplies. Israel’s response to the crisis has already included shuttering all borders to foreigners, and allowing the security services to use citizens’ cellphone data to track suspected COVID-19 patients’ movement.