The Israeli military announced on Tuesday, August 10, that it had completed a first-of-a-kind aerial exercise with the United States Air Force Central Command, simulating various operational scenarios in Israel’s skies. During the drill, dubbed “Desert Eagle,” the Israeli Air Force’s 133rd Squadron trained alongside the US Air Force’s 494th Squadron at the Ovda airbase in southern Israel, according to the Israel military.
“The aircrews practiced various operational scenarios in the air, including joint exercises against ground, aerial and combined threats while striking designated targets,” the military said in a statement. The Israel Air Force (IAF) hailed the drill: “This historic cooperation between the IAF and AFCENT is another example of the long-standing alliance and strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States.”
Last January, the US Department of Defense announced that Israel, which had been under the area of responsibility of the US military’s European Command (EUCOM), was being moved to its Central Command, which operates in the Middle East. The move was meant to improve the cooperation between Israel and other countries in the region in confronting Iran.
Israel had historically been kept out of CENTCOM out of concern that it could cause friction between the US and the other countries in the region, most of whom held a negative view of Israel. This is no longer true of some countries in the Middle East, particularly those in the Persian Gulf. CENTCOM Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told the US Military’s Defense News that the move would “put an operational perspective” on former US President Donald Trumps’ Abraham Accords and will set up “further corridors and opportunities to open up between Israel and Arab countries in the region” on a military-to-military level.
Despite COVID-19 affecting the ability to hold in-person training, the IAF took part in close to 20 drills over the past year.
At the beginning of last week, US and Israeli troops began a week-long drill dubbed “Juniper Falcon,” which tested the level of coordination between the two countries in the event of a ballistic missile threat against Israel.
On the same day the drill was concluded, CIA Director William J. Burns began his first working visit to Israel and West Bank as the agency’s director, during which he met with top Israeli and Palestinian officials. Burns conferred with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday, August 11, and with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and top Israeli political and defense officials the next day. According Israeli officials, “Burns’ visit comes against the backdrop of Tehran’s efforts to achieve nuclear capabilities as well as a possible return to its nuclear deal following the inauguration last week of a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi.”
Burns’s visit also included meetings in the occupied West Bank, where he met with Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to Israeli sources, the CIA maintains close ties with the Palestinian security forces, links which were maintained even during the Trump administration which had halted open political cooperation between the US and the Palestinian Authority. Burns, a fluent speaker of Arabic, was formerly a US Deputy Secretary of State as well as an ambassador, serving as a diplomat for over 30 years.