Hermann Goring, the commander of Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe and one of Adolf Hitler’s chief lieutenants, would surely be spinning in his grave if he knew that the German and Israeli air forces are currently conducting their first joint exercise in Germany.
German pilots have trained in Israel twice before, but this is the first time that Israelis have participated in such maneuvers in Germany’s airspace.
Considering Germany’s pivotal role in the Holocaust, this exercise marks a major milestone in Israel’s bilateral relationship with Germany, one of its most important partners.
It began several days ago at the Norvenich air base in western Germany and will last for two weeks. Ten Israeli airplanes — six F-16s, two Gulfstreams and two Boeing 707 tanker jets — and a contingent of 180 pilots and mechanics are involved.
General Ingo Gerhartz, the head of the German Air Force, was acutely aware of this special moment. As he put it, “After the crime against humanity that was the Shoah, it is a moving sign of our friendship today that we are flying side by side with the Israeli Air Force.”
Gerhartz thanked his Israeli counterpart, General Amikam Norkin, “and all his pilots for their trust and emotional attachment.”
Amikam was equally cognizant of the historic nature of this unique event.
“Many Israel Air Force fighters are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors,” he said. “In the 1960s and 1970s, half of the IAF’s pilots were Holocaust survivors themselves — and yet we believe this is the right thing to do. This connection with the German Air Force is more than just tactics that allow us to learn and fly to places that we don’t know yet. In a way, this connection serves as a bridge for the State of Israel.”
In honor of the occasion, Israeli and German aircraft flew over the Dachau concentration camp, where more than 40,000 Jews were killed, and over the nearby Fuerstenfeldbruck airfield near Munich, where 11 Israeli athletes perished in the course of a Palestinian terrorist attack and hostage crisis during the 1972 summer Olympic Games.
This exercise underscores a little-known fact: Israel and Germany have robust military and security relations, which began in the 1950s, a decade before Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer decided to establish formal diplomatic ties.
Today, Israel’s security relationship with Germany is its closest with a foreign country apart from that of the United States. Germany’s former defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, confirmed this a few years ago.
Prior to the 1967 Six Day War, Germany secretly sold tanks to Israel. During the war itself, Germany provided Israel with gas masks. As the 1991 Gulf War raged, Germany sent Patriot anti-missile batteries to Israel.
The Israeli and German armies have participated in joint exercises, most recently in the Negev Desert.
Israel’s submarine fleet is composed almost entirely of German Dolphin-class vessels. And in recent years, Israel has purchased German patrol ships to defend its natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel’s most advanced tank, the Merkava, is powered by a German diesel engine.
Germany has bought Spike missiles and Heron drones from Israel.
It’s clear that Israel and Germany enjoy extraordinary military and security relations, notwithstanding the stain of the Holocaust.