The chief of the United Arab Emirates Air Force visited Israel on Monday on what the host country described as a harbinger of cooperation in air power.
The US allies normalized relations last year, brought together by shared worries about Iran and a desire for business ventures. Their public embrace has so far been in the diplomatic and commercial, rather than military, spheres.
Major-General Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi, commander of the UAE air force, made the previously unannounced appearance during a multinational drill, Blue Flag, hosted by Israel this week.
“This is a truly historic day with tremendous significance for the future of cooperation between our air forces,” his Israeli counterpart, Major-General Amikam Norkin, tweeted. The statement did not elaborate on how such cooperation might look.
Israeli media have suggested the UAE – along with Gulf neighbor Bahrain, which also formalized ties with Israel last year – may be interested in joint defenses against Iranian-made drones.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly last month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “Iran plans to arm its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with hundreds, and then thousands of these deadly drones.”
Iran denies arming any paramilitary forces across the region. Israel has mounted regular strikes against what it has described as Iranian-linked targets in Syria, including one such attack on Monday, according to Syrian state media.
Briefing foreign reporters last week, a senior Israeli security official said security cooperation with Arab countries in new partnerships with Israel had “improved and intensified in recent months”.
He did not name the countries nor detail the cooperation, other than to say it had been enhanced by Israel’s inclusion this year in Centcom, a US military coordination umbrella organization for the Middle East.