Israeli Navy's First Drill With Gulf States Kicks Off in Red Sea

'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

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USS Portland (LPD 27) departs Eilat this week.
USS Portland (LPD 27) departs Eilat this week.Credit: U.S. Navy photo / Devin Kates
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

An unprecedented military naval exercise in the Red Sea between Israel, two Gulf states and the United States on Wednesday marked a new chapter in the Israel's relationships with Arab countries. 

Forces from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain participated in the joint maritime exercise as both Gulf states normalized diplomatic relations with Israel last year under the Abraham Accords. 

United States Naval Forces Central Command publicly announced the military exercise on Thursday.

In a statement on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service website, NAVCENT stated that the five-day exercise will include “at-sea training” centered around “visit, board, search and seizure tactics” intended to “enhance interoperability between participating forces' maritime interdiction teams.”

"It is exciting to see U.S. forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities,” NAVCENT commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said in the statement. "Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability.”

The drill comes after 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 last Monday, adding that “We continue to strengthen our capabilities to counter threats in the region.”

"For the first time, Israel, Bahrain and the UAE are exchanging operational know-how at sea," A senior Israeli naval officer said.

“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 to the cabinet last week.

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.

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

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

Iran has repeatedly warned the United States about its military activities in the Gulf, saying that the Revolutionary Guards naval forces have increased patrols to also secure the passage of Iranian ships and combat fuel smuggling.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined Israel and the United Kingdom this August in accusing Iran of an attack on a tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two crew members. Western countries have accused Tehran of hampering freedom of navigation and engaging in aggression against western ships.

Blinken stated that the attack was “part of a pattern of attacks and other provocative behavior” which “threaten freedom of navigation.”

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.

Reuters contributed to this report

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