Israeli Navy first time in US Navy-led international maritime exercise

Israel participated alongside several countries that recently normalized ties with Israel including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Bahrain.

 Ships from partner nations of Combined Task Force North participate in a photo exercise during a 60-nation International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express 2022 (IMX/CE22), in the the Arabian Gulf, Middle East, in this photo taken on February 9, 2022. (photo credit: US Naval Forces Central Command/2nd Class Helen Brown/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS )
Ships from partner nations of Combined Task Force North participate in a photo exercise during a 60-nation International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express 2022 (IMX/CE22), in the the Arabian Gulf, Middle East, in this photo taken on February 9, 2022.
(photo credit: US Naval Forces Central Command/2nd Class Helen Brown/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS )

The 18-day biennial International Naval Exercise (IMX) led by the US Naval Forces Central Command, in which Israel’s Navy participated for the first time, concluded on Thursday.

IMX saw more than 9,000 personnel and up to 50 ships from more than 60 militaries and international organizations taking part in the exercise that focused on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence.

Israel sent its underwater warfare unit and Flotilla 3 to participate.

During the exercise, the Israel Navy’s Underwater Missions Unit trained alongside its counterparts from the US Fifth Fleet, focusing on search and rescue efforts and neutralizing naval mines.

At the same time, an Israel Navy missile ship and the 915th Patrol Fleet drilled rescue and medical emergency scenarios in the northern Red Sea and the Gulf of Eilat, alongside the Coast Guard of the US Fifth Fleet.

 Israel's second Saar-6 corvette, a warship dubbed ''Oz'', sails before a welcoming ceremony by the Israeli Navy to mark its arrival, in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Haifa, northern Israel June 9, 2021.  (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS) Israel's second Saar-6 corvette, a warship dubbed ''Oz'', sails before a welcoming ceremony by the Israeli Navy to mark its arrival, in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Haifa, northern Israel June 9, 2021. (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

“The Israeli navy’s participation in the ‘IMX’ international naval exercise, led by the US Fifth Fleet, illustrates the growing relationship between our two fleets,” said the commander of the Israel Navy, Vice Admiral David Saar Salame, who visited Bahrain and the Fifth Fleet’s home base earlier this month at the beginning of the drill.

“This relationship is based on fortitude, shared learning and strategic cooperation,” said Salame. “Our work with our American partners helps us to prevent terrorism in the naval arena while strengthening regional maritime security.”

The IDF said that the training on emergency and routine training scenarios “demonstrates the strategic and operational cooperation” with the US Fifth Fleet, and is “another expression of the expanding international cooperation of the Israeli navy” since it moved into CENTCOM last year.

The US Fifth Fleet’s area of operations encompasses 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 Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb.

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 was described by NAVCENT as the “largest unmanned exercise in the world” with more than 80 unmanned systems from 10 countries participating.

“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 were divided into four geographical combined task forces led by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya and Oman. The drill took place in the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, where Israel participated.

Several countries that recently normalized ties with Israel also took part in the drill, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain. Several others who do not have formal ties are also participating, including Bangladesh, Comoros, Djibouti, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. Egypt and Jordan also participated.

“This joint exercise demonstrates our determination to defend international law and order together. The ‘IMX’ is a special opportunity to broaden and strengthen our maritime partnership,” said US 5th fleet Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper.

Israel formally moved from US European Command to CENTCOM in September, and 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.

Though Israel and the US Navy have worked closely together for decades, Cooper told The Jerusalem Post in Bahrain at the beginning of the drill that “the Abraham Accord signing and the shift to CENTCOM by Israel from EUCOM and now us taking advantage of that orientation to strengthen maritime security – those two things didn’t exist before and they exist now, and we will take advantage of that.”