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One of the biggest air force exercises ever staged in the region takes place Sunday over southern Turkey with more than 500 craft from the U.S., Israel and Turkey participating, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly, the online intelligence source.

“Anatolian Eagle,” will involve fighters, bombers, surveillance craft, marine vehicles and refueling planes, as well as combat helicopters and will be the first joint exercise by the three air forces. It will last 13 days, ending June 29.

Hundreds of craft will zip round the skies over most parts of the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey’s frontiers with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Some of the U.S. craft will make use of carriers cruising in the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and Israeli air units will return home periodically to refuel and re-arm at their bases in Neve David and Hatzor, before rejoining the exercise.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military experts reveal that Anatolian Eagle’s secret objective is to make tangible preparations for a Middle East war. The three air forces will be rehearsing a Turkish-U.S. response, should Syria, Iraq and Iran – together or singly – launch a surface missile assault on Turkish and U.S. military bases inside Turkey, as part of an overall offensive against Israel.

This offensive might come in the form of a missile raid or a ground invasion through Jordan or Syria. The 1995 Turkish-Israel military pact provides for Israel to use Turkish air bases if attacked.

The basic premise underlying the air force exercise is that in the event of a full-blown Middle East war, either of those three neighbors of Turkey will send missiles against military installations in southern Turkey, primarily the big base at Incerlik, for the purpose of demolishing any Israeli warplanes that are on the ground and preventing the Israeli air force from using Turkish soil as a launch pad for reaching targets in Syria, north Iraq, northeast Iran, Iraq’s western desert and northeast Iraq.

Based in those regions are the very surface missile batteries that Iraq and Iran mean to deploy against Israel in a war.

The joint exercise will also drill fighter planes in missile-launcher destruction tactics. For the first time, the Arrow anti-missile missile system will be tried out in mock battle conditions. DEBKA-Net-Weekly adds that the first operational version of the Arrow will be taking part in the exercise and fill two functions:

  1. Its advanced radar will be required to pick up surface missile launchings against Turkish targets in time to direct round-the-clock airborne air units to home in on the launchers and destroy them before the enemy has time to conceal them.

  2. The Arrow will also be dispatched to intercept enemy missiles penetrating Turkish air space and blow them out of the air.

There are signs that the imminent Anatolian Eagle exercise is generating some edginess in Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus. Earlier this week, Syria sent a military delegation to Ankara to quiz Turkish officials about the Israel air force role. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources, the Turks told their visitors politely but firmly to mind their own business.

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