In response to a heightened threat of anti-aircraft weaponry from Gaza and Egypt, the IAF has ordered its planes to temporarily avoid flying over Israel's southern border.
The decision comes as a result of Israel's sensitive diplomatic situation with Egypt and the threat of terrorist groups operating in the area with newly procured anti-aircraft weapons from Libya. The IDF believes the anti-aircraft missiles have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip and the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula and will be used to perpetrate a terrorist attack.
Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator whose death last month capped a months-long popular revolution, left behind massive arms caches for looting. Within weeks of the uprising's beginning, reports surfaced of weapons being smuggled to Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces, speculating that arms from Libya found their way to multiple terrorist organizations within the Gaza Strip, adapted its operating procedures accordingly.
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"We are managing our risks," a senior IDF official said. "Today it is more dangerous to fly along the southern border. If there is another incident along the [border] fence like there was in August, there is no doubt that the risk to aircraft has increased," he said.
The IDF official noted that the shift was temporary and the Israel Air Force would not hesitate to fly over the southern border if a security need arose. "If necessary we will fly over the border as well. This is Israel and we fly through it."
Meanwhile, an Egyptian military helicopter strayed into Israeli air space on Wednesday for nearly half an hour. IAF fighter jets scrambled to meet the craft, but the pilot remained in Israeli air space for 25 minutes before turning around and returning to Egypt without incident.
Meanwhile, the Greek Hellenic Air Force is set to conduct joint aerial exercises in Israel in two weeks. The exercises are another sign of warming relations between Greece and Israel, and will allow the next generation of Greek fighters to benefit from the IAF's training capabilities.
A defense official warned that publishing information regarding such exercises could lead to their cancellation, especially during a time in which rumors about potential military action against Iran are rife.
Next month, Italian pilots will also visit Israel for training sessions alongside their Israeli counterparts.
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