Sunday, November 28

Blue Flag maneuver: more than just an exercise in Israel

As of: 27.10.2021 1:19 p.m.

After twelve days, the “Blue Flag” maneuver in the Negev desert, in which the Air Force was also involved, comes to an end. An exercise on sensitive terrain – and with a multiple signal character.

By Susanne Glass, ARD Studio Tel Aviv

The German Eurofighter “Eagle Star” in the Israeli Negev desert, covered with a special foil that shows the flags of Israel and Germany: This picture of the international military exercise “Blue Flag” will and should remain. Because if the German Air Force takes part in a maneuver in Israel, this cannot only be judged from a purely military point of view. The horror of the Holocaust and the resulting special responsibility are just as much an issue. So the exercise, which now comes to an end after twelve days, also became a demonstration of the special bond between Israel and Germany.

For Israel, it is the largest and most demanding multinational maneuver the country has ever carried out. Around 1,000 soldiers and 60 latest-generation combat aircraft were gathered at the Ovda Air Force Base near the city of Eilat. In addition to the Israeli hosts, the NATO members USA, Great Britain, France, Italy, Greece and Germany were represented, as well as the Indian Air Force.

Exercises that are not possible in Germany

The Israeli airspace with its narrow borders and the topography in the Negev desert differ significantly from European conditions. Therefore “the exercise ‘Blue Flag’ offered a unique opportunity to practice procedures with other nations in an extraordinary terrain and scenario that we cannot do in this way in Germany”, explains the inspector of the German Air Force, Ingo Gerhartz. The German crew learned a lot, but at the same time also contributed to other countries becoming better militarily.

The fact that NATO members train here together with Israel and India, who use their own methods, has a mutual learning effect. Above all, however, and this is particularly important to General Gerhatz, “with our participation we gave a face to the political demand that the security of Israel is part of Germany’s reason of state”.

A sentence that Chancellor Angela Merkel first formulated in her speech to the Knesset in 2008. And which she reaffirmed on her farewell visit to Jerusalem in October, a few days before the start of the international military exercise.

Joint visit by Yad Vashem

The Air Force had flown to Israel with 160 men and women and six Eurofighters. It is her third participation in the series of exercises that take place every two years in Ovda.

Gerhartz and the commander of the Israeli air force, Amikam Norkin, demonstrated the special bond right at the beginning: the generals visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem together. After laying the wreath, Gerhartz declared: “Our responsibility will not end, our memories will not fade. I am deeply moved to give you our promise: Never again!”

And Norkin reminds that in the summer of 2020 Israeli fighter planes were guests in Germany for the first time and that this visit has acquired a historical dimension. “A year ago we were standing together in Dachau,” the Israeli general recalled, “after we flew past the former concentration camp together”.

Joint commemoration: In August 2020, Israel’s Defense Minister Issacharow and Federal Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer visited the GZ Memorial Dachau together.

Bild: picture alliance/dpa

Flight with symbolic character

Both states wanted to follow up on this with another spectacular action in Israel: Gerhatz flew side by side in a Eurofighter, specially foiled with the flags of both countries, and Norkin in an F-15 plane over Jerusalem – including the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

When Gerhartz is back on solid ground after the one-hour flight, he speaks of one of the most emotional moments of his military service. He also wants to send a clear signal to Germany, he says: “Anti-Semitism has no place in Germany, no place in the Bundeswehr and no place in the air force.”

And he announced that the central lecture hall building in Appen will be named after the former Luftwaffe sergeant, Karl Laabs. Laabs had saved more than a hundred Polish Jews. He is honored in Yad Vashem as one of the few Germans as “Righteous Among the Nations”.

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