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Israeli, German fighter pilots commemorate Holocaust victims with flyover

The symbolic event was the first time ever that Israeli air forces have trained in Germany and is part of a two-week program of manoeuvres

Israeli and German fighter pilots on Tuesday carried out their first joint military exercises in Germany, honouring Holocaust victims and the 11 Israelis slain at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

A formation of aircraft, including Israeli Air Force F-16s and Eurofighter jets from the German Luftwaffe, launched the commemorations with an overfly of the Fuerstenfeldbruck airbase near Munich to mark the Olympic massacre.

They then carried out an aerial tribute above the former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

Israel’s Air Force training in Germany

The flyovers kick off nearly two weeks of manoeuvres that will see Israeli air forces train on German soil for the first time.

It is the only training mission the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is conducting abroad this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Luftwaffe chief Ingo Gerhartz called the joint exercise “a sign of our friendship today”.

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He said in a statement it was also a reminder that Germany has an enduring responsibility “to fight anti-Semitism with the utmost consistency” because of its Nazi past.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a picture of the Dachau flyover on his Twitter page.

“The great lesson of the Holocaust is that no one will protect the Jews if they do not protect themselves. Today we defend ourselves,” he wrote.

Israeli and German fighter pilots commemorate Holocaust survivors 

The IAF said the training mission, which runs until August 28, will give its pilots a chance to practise in unfamiliar surroundings and will include simulated dogfights, air-to-ground battles and missile threats.

Israeli pilots will also take part in aerial manoeuvres with Germany and other NATO members during the deployment.

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Germany and Israel have stepped up military cooperation in recent years, with the Luftwaffe taking part in joint exercises in Israel’s Negev desert in 2019.

But the landmark Israeli visit to Germany is heavy with history.

Nine members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team were killed in a shootout in Munich after being taken hostage by Palestinian militants.

The gunmen had earlier already shot dead an Israeli coach and an athlete at the Olympic Village.

They were murdered “by a common enemy of Israel and Germany: terror”, an Israeli air force officer who asked to be identified only as “Major T” told.

The commemorations would be “a very moving event for everyone”, said Major T, whose own grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.

After leaving the Fuerstenfeldbruck airbase, the German and Israeli jets flew low over the Dachau site, which was built in 1933 and served as a model for other concentration camps.

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More than 40,000 Jews were killed at Dachau during World War II.

A momentous occasion to counter anti-Semitism

The flyover was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at Dachau attended by IAF commander Amikam Norkin and his German counterpart Gerhartz, as well as German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff.

Issacharoff praised the joint exercise as a “unique event”.

Germany and Israel have grown closer over the past decades, he said, but “today we can take another important step”.

An Israeli officer, the grandson of a Dachau survivor, also gave a short speech.

The homage comes as Germany grapples with an upsurge in anti-Semitic and far-right violence, 75 years after the defeat of the Nazi regime.

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In the eastern city of Halle last year, a neo-Nazi shot dead two people after trying but failing to storm a synagogue.

The attack prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to say Germany needed “to do more” to protect Jewish people.

In June, Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of Germany’s elite KSK commando force after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk