In symbolic first, Israeli fighter pilots train in Germany

By: AFP      Published: 05:11 PM, 18 Aug, 2020
In symbolic first, Israeli fighter pilots train in Germany
Eurofighter planes of the German Air force Luftwaffe, a Learjet and F-16 planes of the Israeli Air Force fly on August 18, 2020 in a formation over the air force's air base in Fuerstenfeldbruck near Munich, Germany. AFP

Israeli and German fighter pilots Tuesday carried out their first joint military exercises in Germany, honouring Holocaust victims and the 11 Israelis slain at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

A formation of fighter aircraft, including Israeli Air Force F-16s and Eurofighter jets from the German Luftwaffe, began the commemorations with an overfly of the Fuerstenfeldbruck airbase near Munich to mark the Olympic massacre.

They then carried out an aerial tribute above the former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. The exercises are the highlight of two weeks of manoeuvres that will see Israeli air forces train on German soil for the first time.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is the only training mission the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is conducting abroad this year. Luftwaffe chief Ingo Gerhartz in a statement called the joint exercise "a sign of our friendship today".

He said it was also a reminder that Germany has an enduring responsibility "to fight anti-Semitism with the utmost consistency" because of its Nazi past.

'Very moving' 

The IAF said the mission, which runs until August 28, will give its pilots a chance to practise in unfamiliar surroundings and will include simulated dogfights, air-to-ground battles and missile threats. Israeli pilots will also take part in aerial manoeuvres with Germany and other NATO members during the deployment.

Germany and Israel have stepped up military cooperation in recent years, with the Luftwaffe taking part in joint exercises in the Israeli Negev desert in 2019. But the landmark Israeli visit to Germany is heavy with history.

Nine members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team were killed in a shootout in Munich after being taken hostage by Palestinian militants. The gunmen had earlier already shot dead an Israeli coach and athlete at the Olympic Village.

They were murdered "by a common enemy of Israel and Germany: terror", an Israeli air force officer who asked to be identified only as "Major T" told AFP. The German and Israeli jets then flew low over the Dachau site, which was built in 1933 and served as a model for other concentration camps.

More than 40,000 Jews were killed at Dachau during World War II.

The flyover will be followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at Dachau to be attended by IAF commander Amikam Norkin and his German counterpart Gerhartz, as well as German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff.

An Israeli officer, the grandson of a Dachau survivor, will give a speech. It will be "a very moving event for everyone", said Major T, whose own grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.

The homage comes as Germany grapples with an upsurge in anti-Semitic and far-right violence, 75 years after the defeat of the Nazi regime. In the eastern city of Halle last year, a neo-Nazi shot dead two people after trying but failing to storm a synagogue.

The attack prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to say Germany needed "to do more" to protect Jewish people. In June, Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of Germany's elite KSK commando force after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

Categories : World, Europe