Middle East News
BACKGROUND: Israel-Romania Air Force cooperation
Jul 27, 2010, 13:36 GMT
Tel Aviv - The Israel Air Force (IAF) has been holding joint exercises with its Romanian counterpart since August 2004.
At that stage, Israeli Sikorsky helicopter crews were sent to practice navigation and landing, including flying and landing in high mountains - a manoeuvre seldom, if ever, practiced in Israel.
An IAF officer, identified only as Lieutenant-Colonel A, told an IAF publication that the exercise made it possible 'for us to fly in a way we cannot in Israel.'
'There are very high mountains in central Romania with a flat area around them and this unfamiliar terrain, which looks like a wheel rim, provided the crews with a unique environment for training that cannot be carried out in Israel,' he said.
Another officer, identified as Major G, of a helicopter squadron, noted that the crews practiced the necessary 'special technique' needed to fly helicopters at high altitudes, where the air has less oxygen and the engines are less effective and weaker.
The August 2004 exercise was followed by several others, and in 2006 Israel and Romania even signed an agreement of principle for ongoing cooperation.
But even so, the majority of IAF exercise with a foreign counterpart were held in Turkey, due to Israel's belief that it was more important to maintain its relationship with Ankara.
The IAF even stationed combat and transport squadrons in Turkish air force bases, to enable it to carry out exercises that could not be held in Israel's narrow and restricted air space.
But as Israeli-Turkish relations began deteriorating following Israel's massive offensive against Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 - January 2009, Israeli officials realised the IAF could no longer hold joint exercises with the Turkish Air Force and Romania became the preferred alternative.
According to the Israeli Yediot Ahronoth daily, so far as joint air force exercises go, Romania is now Israel's closed European ally.