Israel joins US, UAE and Bahrain in first joint navy military exercise

What’s happened: The Israeli navy is participating in a military training exercise alongside the UAE, Bahrain and the US.

  • The exercise is being viewed as a message to Iran and a challenge to their agenda of regional entrenchment.
  • The five-day exercise began on Wednesday in the Red Sea and aims to enhance maritime and military cooperation.
  • The announcement commencing the drill came from the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and is the first time the sides have publicly acknowledged naval exercise between them.
  • According to the NAVCENT statement, the “training will enhance interoperability between participating forces’ maritime interdiction teams”.
  • Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, said: “It is exciting to see US forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities. Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability.”
  • Also on Thursday, Israeli Air Force F-15s escorted two US B-1B strategic heavy bombers and a KC-10 refueler over Israeli airspace on their way to the Gulf.
  • It was the second such flight in two weeks. According to an IDF statement, it was “a significant step in maintaining the security of the skies of the State of Israel and the Middle East”.

Context: Military exercises and coordination are the latest manifestation of the Abraham Accords, signed last year between Israel and their new Gulf allies.

  • The exercise attests to growing trust between the militaries and their shared concerns over Iran’s regional agenda and nuclear programme.
  • Following the signing of the accords, in September the US moved Israel from US European Command to the regionally focused Central Command.
  • Foreign Minister Lapid visited Bahrain for the first time in September, in which a deliberate joint photo was taken in front of the USS Pearl Harbor in Manama port with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al Zayani and US Fifth Fleet commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper.
  • Earlier this week, Iran announced its own large-scale military drill, east of the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian media quoted Iranian Rear Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi saying: “The military exercise in Iran’s coast on the Gulf of Oman aims to display the country’s military might and readiness to confront our enemies.” Iran also broadcast video footage of the launching of a Qader ballistic missile which they claim can reach targets up to 300km.
  • The naval arena is just one domain that has seen friction between Iran and Israeli interests. Several vessels indirectly connected to Israel or Israelis have been targeted over the last couple of years. Most recently the Mercer Street tanker was struck by an Iranian suicide drone 86 miles off the coast of Oman, which resulted in the death of British and Romanian crew members.
  • Last month the Israeli Air Force hosted ‘Blue Flag’ exercise with seven other air forces, including US Air Force, the RAF and other European partners for a two-week exercise in aerial drills and joint missions.
  • During Blue Flag, the US Air Force flew a B-1B strategic bomber through the region accompanied at various stages by allied aerial forces including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
  • Although they did not participate, in another symbolic act the Commander of the UAE Air Force, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed Al Alawi visited Israel to coincide with the exercise. Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Norkin said: “I look at aerial diplomacy and the relations between us as a bridge to regional stability. What we do between us, between the Air Force commanders, is a bridge and foundation that nations can work upon on other issues.”
  • Also last month, the Israeli Navy participated in a combined maritime security patrol with NAVCENT’s 5th Fleet in the Red Sea for the first time. Three Israeli ships took part alongside US vessels.

Looking ahead: This projection of power coincides with the diplomatic process and the anticipated return to nuclear talks in Vienna at the end of the month.

  • More joint military exercises between the Abraham Accord partners are also anticipated in the future.

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