Israel participates in large scale US-led naval exercise alongside Saudi, Yemen

International Maritime Exercise will include countries that do not have ties with Israel, including Yemen.

 Israeli navy boats are seen in the Mediterranean Sea as seen from Rosh Hanikra, close to the Lebanese border, northern Israel May 4, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Israeli navy boats are seen in the Mediterranean Sea as seen from Rosh Hanikra, close to the Lebanese border, northern Israel May 4, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

The Israel Navy is for the first time taking part in one of the largest American-led naval drills in the Red Sea alongside dozens of other countries, including Saudi Arabia.

“The Israel Navy will join 60 naval fleets for the US Navy-led ‘IMX’ International Naval Exercise,” the IDF said. “For the first time, our Flotilla 3 & Underwater Warfare Unit will train with the US Fifth Fleet in the Red Sea. We look forward to strengthening security & global cooperation.”

Known as the International Maritime Exercise (or IMX), more than 9,000 personnel and up to 50 ships from more than 60 militaries and international organizations will take part. The exercise will focus on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence.

“This level of representation demonstrates shared resolve in preserving the rules-based international order,” said V.-Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, US Fifth Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “This is a unique opportunity to increase our capabilities and interoperability while strengthening maritime ties.”

The exercise will be led by US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) along with US Naval Forces Europe-Africa in East African coastal regions and the West Indian Ocean. IMX will last 18 days and is described by NAVCENT as the “largest unmanned exercise in the world” with more than 80 unmanned systems from 10 countries participating.

US NAVY guided-missile destroyer patrols in the Philippine Sea. The destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by China and two other states in the South China Sea in 2016 to counter efforts to limit freedom of navigation, the Pentagon said.  (credit: REUTERS)US NAVY guided-missile destroyer patrols in the Philippine Sea. The destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by China and two other states in the South China Sea in 2016 to counter efforts to limit freedom of navigation, the Pentagon said. (credit: REUTERS)

“The exercise will allow participating forces to test unmanned systems and artificial intelligence in different training scenarios and ultimately apply the lessons learned to future real-world operations,” the US Navy said. “Training will also focus on enhancing capabilities in command and control, sea control, maritime security operations, and mine countermeasures.”

International naval forces participating in the drill are divided into four geographical combined task forces led by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya and Oman, the US Navy said.

The drill will take place in the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, where Israel will participate in the portions of the exercise.

The US Fifth Fleet’s area of operations encompasses some 2.5 million square miles and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean and three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

Several countries that recently normalized ties with Israel are taking part in the drill including the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain. Several others that do not have formal ties are also participating including Bangladesh, Comoros, Djibouti, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

Egypt and Jordan are also taking part in the drill.

Israel formally moved from US European Command (EUCOM) to CENTCOM in September. Since then, military officials have been meeting regularly. Cooper has met with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi at least three times in Israel in the past six months.

Israeli troops have held several drills with CENTCOM, the United States Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) and NAVCENT in recent months in the South of the county, including one in November with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in the Red Sea.

“The Iranians are independent at sea and must be kept away from the Red Sea so as not to infringe on Israel’s freedom of navigation or to carry out maritime terrorism,” a senior Israel Navy officer said at the time.

Iran, he said, is attempting to entrench itself not only on land in the region but also at sea where it has used drones and other platforms to carry out attacks.

With tensions high, and clashes between the Fifth Fleet and Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, Tehran is also working to increase its maritime capabilities and modernize the navy by upgrading its existing fleet of surface vessels and new submarines.

Though it mainly operates in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, the Iranian Navy has recently been trying to expand to the Red Sea.