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Britain confirms joint F-35 jet fighter exercise with Israel for first time

Exercise, which also included US aircraft, comes at a time of increased military cooperation between the two nations
In September, Israeli aircraft will for the first time participate in the Combat Warrior exercise in Britain (AFP)

Britain's Royal Air Force has acknowledged for the first time that it has carried out a joint exercise with its Israeli counterpart involving F-35 fighter jets. 

The Permanent Joint Headquarters, Britain's tri-service headquarters from where all overseas military operations are planned and controlled, posted on Twitter about Tuesday's training exercise, which also included US aircraft.

The announcement comes at a time of increased military cooperation between the two countries.

In September, Israeli aircraft will for the first time participate in the Combat Warrior exercise in Britain.

On Monday, Middle East Eye revealed the British government had licensed arms deals worth over $17.8m to Israel last year, even as Israeli soldiers were accused of intentionally firing on Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border in what the UN says may be potential war crimes.

Weapons approved for sale included ammunition, components for assault rifles, and other types of arms which could be used for repression, according to newly released details from the Department of International Trade (DIT), compiled by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

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A day after the Israeli sales revelations, the British government announced that it was banning all new arms sales licences to the Saudi Arabian-led military coalition fighting in the Yemen war following its defeat in a lengthy court battle.

The prohibition covers Saudi Arabia as well as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain and Kuwait, and covers any weapons or military equipment that could be used in the war.

The government is seeking to appeal against the court order.

During the 2017-2018 financial year, the UK's army and Joint Forces Command provided training for Israeli forces, according to the UK secretary of state for defence in response to a question from an MP.

UK missions over Syria and Iraq

Also on Tuesday, Britain's Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the country's most advanced military aircraft, the Lightning F-35B, had flown its first missions over Syria and Iraq as part of ongoing operations against Islamic State.

In a statement, Mordaunt was quoted as saying that the planes' first operational mission, from a British air base in Cyprus where they have been undergoing training since 21 May, is "a significant step into the future for the UK".

British military officials had said there were no plans for the aircraft to conduct combat missions during their stay at RAF Akrotiri.

But it was decided that they were ready to make their operational debut because of their "exceptional performance". 

The officials said the aircraft did not fire any weapons when flying alongside British Typhoon jets.