U.S., Israel in Joint Naval Drill 'To Counter Threats in the Region'

Israeli commandos and U.S. marines participate in a two-week joint multi-force training in Eilat as Iran nuclear talks stall

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U.S Marines in Eilat, on Wednesday.
U.S Marines in Eilat, on Wednesday. Credit: idfonline, US5thFleet
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Hundreds of U.S. Marines are participating in an extended joint exercise with Israeli commandos in Eilat in what the Israeli military and politicians have framed as an effort to strengthen military preparedness ahead of a possible confrontation with Iran.

“An aircraft carrier with hundreds of U.S. service members has arrived in Israel. We will conduct a two-week joint multi-force training on dense urban area combat and multi-domain capabilities,” the IDF tweeted shortly after the exercise began on Monday, adding that “We continue to strengthen our capabilities to counter threats in the region.”

“Israel's international standing is strengthening. There is desire by many countries – including some surprising ones – to move closer to us and to cooperate,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during his remarks before Wednesday morning’s cabinet meeting.

The Blue Flag Exercise, with eight of the strongest and best air forces in the world, was held in Israel a few days ago. All the commanders were here in this room and I heard many compliments about the Israel Air Force and the air of cooperation. As we speak, there is another exercise going on in Eilat with our navy and the U.S. 5th Fleet from CENTCOM,” he said.

An Israeli F-16 takes off during the bi-annual multi-national aerial exercise known as the Blue Flag, at Ovda airbase near Eilat, on Sunday. Credit: AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

“Whoever needs to get the message, will get it.”

The exercise involves “approximately 500 personnel from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, including one logistics battalion detachment, one infantry rifle company, a light armored reconnaissance company, and a HIMARS platoon,” the U.S. Defense Department said.

The unit specializes in responding to “contingencies and crises” and, according to Channel 12, is currently focused on training to respond to an Iranian attack on U.S. diplomatic or maritime personnel.

According to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, the exercise includes urban combat, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System live fire training and a variety of professional exchanges.

“This exercise is part of the next chapter in the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ longstanding relationship with Israel that is so vital to stability and security in the region,” said NAVCENT Task Force 51 commander Brig. Gen. Farrell Sullivan.

The exercise started a day after the U.S. Air Force said Sunday it flew a B-1B strategic bomber over key maritime chokepoints in the Mideast with allies including Israel amid ongoing tensions with Iran as its nuclear deal with world powers remains in tatters.

Fighter jets from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia flew alongside the bomber.

The flyover comes after a pattern of such flights by nuclear-capable B-52 bombers since the Trump administration as a show of force to Iran. Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew America from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Tehran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

In the time since, Iran has abandoned all the limits of the deal and drastically reduced the ability of international inspectors to keep watch over their program. While Iran insists its program is peaceful, the U.S. intelligence agencies, Western inspectors and others say Tehran had a structured military nuclear weapons program through the end of 2003.

President Joe Biden has said he's willing to re-enter the nuclear deal, but talks in Vienna have stalled as a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took over as president.

Last week, Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who is commander of the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate, and is tasked with planning Israeli strategy vis-à-vis Iran, told a Bahraini newspaper that even though Israel believes that there is a diplomatic solution for ending the Iran’s nuclear escalation and that Tehran can be brought back to the negotiating table, it also understands that it would not shrink from military confrontation.

Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, 2016.Credit: Shai Naveh

“We do not want conflict, and we do not want war. We want to solve this problem through diplomatic means. But when we have an aggressive party building its military capabilities, we must be prepared for other scenarios,” he told Al-Ayam.

The Israeli government has ordered the defense establishment to prepare for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites – in case negotiations fail and the Islamic Republic continues to advance toward a nuclear bomb. These preparations include acquisition of special equipment, development of advanced intelligence capabilities, as well as other more general improvements. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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