US Navy aircraft.
(photo credit: US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE)
A four-day international maritime drill known as Exercise Argonaut kicked off in Cyprus on Wednesday with 22 countries taking part in scenarios such as terrorist hijackings as well as coping with an influx of civilians fleeing a conflict in the Middle East.
Israel has sent representatives as observers and will not participate in the annual maritime search and rescue and non-combatant evacuation exercise, which includes the navies from Cyprus, Greece, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary, and the United States.
The drill will take place within the territorial, maritime and aerial boundaries of the Larnaca district, within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and flight information region (FIR) of the Republic of Cyprus.
Exercise Argonaut will also see 24 departments from eight Cypriot ministries taking part, including personnel from the National Guard, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center, the Civil Defence, and the Cyprus Police.
The US Sixth Fleet, which is stationed in Naples, will participate in the exercise with the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan and one P-8A Poseidon patrol plane from the Maritime Patrol Squadron.
The fleet is responsible for conducting a range of maritime security cooperation missions with allied countries in order to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa, read a statement by the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa.
Argonaut “is designed to increase interoperability by developing individual and collective maritime proficiencies of participating nations, as well as promoting friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation,” the statement said.
“The exercise helps promote maritime safety and security in the region,” it added, emphasizing that Argonaut is a “regularly scheduled exercise and is not associated with, or a reaction to any real world events.”
While it is not tied to any current events, the exercise will be simulating real-world scenarios which the island nation has faced. In March 2016 an EgyptAir plane with 55 passengers flying between Alexandria and Cairo was hijacked and forced to divert to Larnaca.
After hours of negotiation the hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, released all the passengers and crew before he was arrested.
During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, thousands of foreign nationals were evacuated from Lebanon with more than 25,000 mainly Western foreign nationals making their way to Cyprus, which had fewer than 800,000 inhabitants at the time. It was described by Cypriot officials as the biggest emergency since the partition in 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the northern part of the island.
Israel, Cyprus and neighboring Greece are close allies and share a number of strategic interests. While all have shared economic interests, such as the ambitious project to build an undersea gas pipeline from Israel to Cyprus to Crete to mainland Greece, the three countries also hope to keep the Russian-Iranian- Hezbollah axis from growing.
In March, Israel participated in a three-day joint military exercise with Cyprus where the Israel Air Force tested the Cypriot air defense.
Named Onisilos-Gideon, it was the largest drill since 2014, when the two countries agreed to hold joint exercises as part of their military cooperation.
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