Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has blasted the United Arab Emirates for sending its pilots to train together with Israeli air force, calling the move a “stab in the back” for Palestine and the Islamic world.
Earlier this month, Emirati pilots traveled to Greece to partake in a military exercise that also featured Israeli fighter jets. The Persian Gulf sheikhdom has been testing the waters for official ties with Tel Aviv after years of secretive dealings.
“The joint drills in Greece between Emirati and Israeli forces are painful, hard-hitting and a great disgrace,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Sunday.
“This move encourages Israel to continue its atrocities against Palestinians and amounts to a stab in the back of the nation of Islam as well the Palestinian people.”
Emirati and Israeli pilots flew together as part of Iniohos 2019, Greece’s largest annual military exercise, which was carried out at the Andravida Base in the Peloponnese between April 1 and 12.
The drills also saw forces from the United States, Italy, Cyprus, and almost the entire Hellenic Air Force (HAF) carry out complex air operations. The drills further featured naval and ground forces.
“The objective of the exercise is to provide realistic operational training in conditions that resemble a complex, multi-threat combat environment to maximize the operational capabilities of the Air Force,” the HAF said in a statement.
Israeli pilots flew a fleet of seven aircraft over central Athens during the exercises. The fleet consisted of F-35 Lightning, F-4 Phantom, Mirage M-2000 and Tornado fighter jets.
This is not the first time Israeli and Emirati pilots have flown together. Air forces from the two sides also participated in the Red Flag exercise hosted by the US Air Force in Nevada in August 2016. Those drills featured representatives from Pakistan as well.
The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, is known to have secretly developed expansive ties with Tel Aviv over the past years. A growing obsession to confront Iran’s growing influence in the region is said to be the main driving force behind the emerging Arab-Israeli alliance.
In late March, Anwar Gargash, Emirate’s minister of state for foreign affairs, called on Arab nations to change their decades-long strategy of having no diplomatic relations with Israel, which he branded as a mistake.
The tiny Persian Gulf state's foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the country’s national security adviser paid a not-so-secret visit to Israel on a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv in January, according to Israeli media reports.
In October 2018, Israel’s culture and sports minister Miri Regev paid a historic visit to the Emirates. That same month, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Oman in more than 20 years.
In November 2018, then chief of staff of the Israeli military, Gadi Eisenkot, reportedly made two secret visits to the United Arab Emirates, where he met with senior officials.
In June, the New Yorker magazine reported that Israel had maintained a secret but extremely close relationship with the UAE for more than two decades, with a special focus on intelligence sharing and military cooperation, including potential weapons deals.