Image Source: Ari Gross Judah, In first, Israeli F-35s train in Italy — with Iran in their sights, 2021,

By: Maria Chiara Aquilino

Operation Falcon Strike 21 was initiated from the Italian Military Air Force base in Amendola (FG), Italy on 6th June 2021. It was promoted by the Stato Maggiore della Difesa (Defence Staff) in partnership with NATO, mainly with the United States of America and the United Kingdom and Israel. The involvement of Israeli Air Force (IAF) in the twelve days of aeronaval training, its consequential collaboration with the Italian, American and British military forces gathered the Italian public attention and raised questions on the role of ethics in the decisions made by the NATO powers. 

While there are not many details available on how the Operation Falcon Strike 21 originated, it facilitated the integration from airplanes between the 4th and 5th generation of fighters and increased the level of cooperation between powers in the logistic field and concerning the transfer of F-35 fighter jets. Thus, strengthening the interoperability of allied air forces and partners during joint operations. Exercises to master the use of the most advanced missile defence systems took place in between Sardinia and regions of Southern Italy (Il Manifesto, 2021). 

As the Operation was initiated, an old debate on the role of ethics in military trainings emerged, due to the public fear for how the development of knowledge in the field could be exploited by Israel in its own military operations. Indeed, the participation of this Middle-Eastern Power in exercises that are strategically designed to test the firepower of new F-35 fighter-bombers provided. The debate in fact dates back to 2016 when IAF received its first F-35 fighter jets. Initial trainings with the collaboration with the Western military forces, in particular with the Royal Air Forces and the US Marines, started in 2019. It included the Tri-Lightning exercise and continued with the Enduring Lightning ones organised by Israel and the United States (Aviation Report, 2021).

Since the IAF received its first F-35 fighter jets, it has strived to obtain more of them to be added to its fleet in groups of twos and threes throughout the past years, reaching the current level of 27 planes in total. Additionally, by 2024 23 F-35 jets will be owned by Israel to meet the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) purpose of acquiring a total of 50 aircraft. The Israeli officials have also confirmed that they are planning to purchase more of these aircrafts (The Times of Israel, 2021). 

Undoubtedly, the possibility of Israel deploying the acquired assets to fight its own wars within the Middle East generates an evident threat, which has indeed awakened concerns among the public. In particular, strikes have been organised in the areas close to the military air force base in Amendola, from where the operation was launched as pro-Palestine organisations have mobilized to show their disapproval for the partnership with Israel (Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo, 2021). The exhibited disagreement with practices strengthening Western powers relationship with Israel was further emphasised since a statement released by one of IAF senior officials claimed that the extensive training conducted in Italy would be a historic chance to train its pilots to future wars in the Middle-Eastern area, particularly in Iran (Il Manifesto, 2021). 

Hence, the rise of concerns among pro-Palestine groups regarding the consequences of including Israel in the trainings is inevitable. Yet, this only seem to strike the attention of worried civilians, as indeed even after the IAF statement, the Operation was successfully carried out. 

Operation Falcon 21 was arguably an implicit declaration that it is ultimately ethical to include powers such as Israel in advanced military training conducted by NATO powers, regardless of the knowledge that the former might use the abilities and means gained to fight its own wars. The United States, United Kingdom and Italy have inevitably provided Israel with an outstanding opportunity to improve its military capabilities by supplying it with arms and helping in the development of knowledge about their use. This comes as a direct contradiction of the values of human rights and peace-keeping that these Western Powers claim to uphold. It appears though that for the Western powers, the role of ethics in strategic military decisions is overshadowed where there is a need to build partnerships with key powers such as Israel.