For the first time in history, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are conducting joint military drills this week which includes air force exercises, following the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement between the two countries brokered by the Trump administration in September 2020.
Before the signing of the historic peace deal at the Trump White House, no Arab Gulf country had so much as diplomatic relations with Israel, but now an influential Gulf state within the GCC alliance is engaged in military exercises with the Jewish state.
The "Blue Flag" drills are being held over southern Israel's Ovda airbase, which is in the Negev Desert about 60km north of Eilat and also include multiple other countries, namely the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
Some 70 fighter jets and 1,500 military personnel will participate in what the chief of Israeli air force operations Amir Lazar is calling the largest-ever international aerial drills held in Israel.
Crucially it comes after weeks of Israeli leaders confirming that the country's military and intelligence have resumed "practicing" for war against Iran. Israeli media last week described "intense" drills aimed at conducting strikes on the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.
However, given the participation of UAE and European allies, Israel has been quick to deny that this week's exercises in the Negev are focused on Iran:
Amir Lazar, chief of Israeli air force operations, told reporters at the southern Ovda airbase the drills "don’t focus on Iran", but army officials have said Iran remains Israel’s top strategic threat and at the center of much of its military planning.
The defense chief added this important caveat:
Lazar said the visit, set for Tuesday, was "very significant" as "someday" the nations participating in the drill would be “working together” to counter the Iranian threat.
Indeed the Saudi-UAE-Kuwait Gulf alliance has long quietly cooperated with Israel on intelligence operations especially connected with the decade-long war in Syria, where Assad was seen as a central power in the so-called Iran axis which includes Hezbollah.
Yet more recently the Iranians and Saudis have held surprisingly positive talks in efforts at defusing proxy wars in places like Yemen, Iraq, and Syria.