Naval war drill: Israel, US, UAE, Bahrain hold first joint sea exercise

Israel, UAE, Bahrain and the US Navy are holding a multilateral maritime drill in the Red Sea.

US Navy 5th fleet ship. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
US Navy 5th fleet ship.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

In a message to Iran, Israel is taking part in a multilateral maritime security drill in the Red Sea along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and US Naval Forces Central Command’s (NAVCENT) in the Red Sea.

The five-day drill includes at-sea training aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland focused on visit, board, search and seizure tactics.

“The training will enhance interoperability between participating forces’ maritime interdiction teams,” read a statement by NAVCENT.

While the Israeli Air Force had previously taken part in international drills with the UAE, this drill marks the first time that Israel publicly trains with the UAE and Bahrain. It comes as a result of the transfer of the responsibility for Israel from the US Europe Command (EUCOM) to the US Central Command (CENTCOM).

It is believed that the move will not only simplify the cooperation with American troops in the region, but can also create the potential for a regional coalition with Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel against shared threats posed by Iran.

The 5th Fleet has sometimes clashed with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, and as tensions remain high, Israel’s addition and subsequent drills can be seen as a message to Tehran.

“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,” said a senior Israeli Navy officer.

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.

US Marines with Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 11th MEU, are seen taking part in a drill near the Red Sea. (credit: Lance Cpl. Patrick Katz)US Marines with Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 11th MEU, are seen taking part in a drill near the Red Sea. (credit: Lance Cpl. Patrick Katz)

The senior Israeli navy officer told reporters that the drill is part of a larger work plan to establish partnerships not only with the Americans following the move to CENTCOM’s area of responsibility, but other countries who have signed the Abraham Accords.

The drill with the Emirates and Bahrainis, which is taking place in the northern part of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba, will “increase the operational range of the Navy,” he said, adding that Israel will be able to both maintain its freedom of operation at sea and also respond to events when required.

The US 5th Fleet’s area of operations encompasses 2.5 million square miles and includes the Arabian Gulf, the 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.

With Israel’s addition, the region now comprises 21 countries.

“It is exciting to see US forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability.”

The IDF is also finishing a two-week drill with 500 troops from NAVCENT’s 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

The American delegation includes a logistics battalion detachment, an infantry rifle company, a light armored reconnaissance company, and a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) platoon.

IDF troops from the Maglan commando unit and from the Lotar anti-terrorism unit, as well as from the School for Infantry Corps Professions and Squad Commanders, are taking part.

The two-week drill includes scenarios in urban terrain, infantry live-firing, HIMARS live-fire, and rapid maneuvering training and more. It also saw forces hold discussions on various topics such as engineering, medical and explosive ordinance disposal.

US Marine Corps and IDF troops are seen taking part in a drill near the Red Sea. (credit: St.-Sgt. Donald Holbert)US Marine Corps and IDF troops are seen taking part in a drill near the Red Sea. (credit: St.-Sgt. Donald Holbert)

During the second week, IDF troops from the Lotar Counter-Terror School, Maglan commando unit and Oketz canine unit drilled on urban warfare scenarios, a challenge for both militaries.

Commander of the Marom Division Col. Aviran Lerer, who took part in the second week of the drill at the IDF’s Tze’elim base in southern Israel, said that the drill showed the importance of working with and learning from allies like the Americans.

The drill, he said, was to strengthen ties with Israel’s main ally and the Marines who “are a significant force in the US military with whom we have a lot of shared interests. The United States always fights as a coalition and it could be that will be part of a future coalition. We as an army have to do everything we can to be ready for a future conflict, and we see the Americans as a strategic ally and there could be a time where we will work and fight together.”

Lt.-Col. Gilad Pasternak, commander of the drill in Bislah Training Center, told The Jerusalem Post that this was the first bilateral training since the move to CENTCOM.

The IDF, Pasternak said, was informed of the drill at the last minute.

The troops, who had been in the Pacific, were placed in the Middle East following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and after three months at sea wanted to carry out a joint exercise with the Israelis.

 US soldiers and an armored vehicle are seen taking part in a maritime security drill near the Red Sea. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) US soldiers and an armored vehicle are seen taking part in a maritime security drill near the Red Sea. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

“The scale of having 515 marines in Israel is new, this never happened before,” Pasternak said, adding that because of Israel’s move to CENTCOM’s area of responsibility, he expects to see many more drills of this magnitude.

The last maneuvering under fire that the IDF carried out was in 2014 in Gaza, and the Marines, he said, taught the IDF how they fight and maneuver in open areas, while the Israelis taught the Americans how they fight underground. The two also held professional discussions on drones and identifying enemy forces in urban residential areas.

What was interesting to see, Pasternak said, was how a team leader in the Marines has been in the military six or seven years, while in the IDF a team leader has only spent one or two years in uniform.

Nevertheless, “the ties between forces were out of this world, both professionally and personally,” he said.

The Marines said “the drill is a robust demonstration of both nations’ commitment to stability in the region.”

US Marines with Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 11th MEU, are seen taking part in a drill near the Red Sea. (credit: Lance Cpl. Patrick Katz)US Marines with Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 11th MEU, are seen taking part in a drill near the Red Sea. (credit: Lance Cpl. Patrick Katz)

Also on Thursday, Israeli Air Force F-15s escorted two B-1B strategic heavy bombers as well as a KC-10 refueler belonging to the American Air Force on their way to the Gulf.

It was the second such flight in two weeks, and was “a significant step in maintaining the security of the skies of the State of Israel and the Middle East,” the IDF said on Twitter.

Two weeks ago, the US Air Force flew a B-1B strategic bomber over key areas in the Middle East accompanied by allied aerial forces like Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.

The US Air Force heavy bomber, commonly called the “bone,” was headed toward the Persian Gulf.

Soldiers are seen taking part in a joint maritime security drill near the Red Sea. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)Soldiers are seen taking part in a joint maritime security drill near the Red Sea. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

“The joint flight illustrates the continued strategic cooperation of the IDF with the United States in the area,” the IDF said.

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, the INS Eilat, and two patrol boats sailed alongside the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey and a US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft that flew overhead.

The forces also drilled on search and rescue scenarios, air defense, high-value unit defense, small boat operations, as well as tactical defensive maneuvers.

US Marines with Bravo Battery, BLT 1/1, 11th MEU, prep HIMARS for training at a joint drill near the Red Sea. (credit: 1st Lt. Austin Gallegos)US Marines with Bravo Battery, BLT 1/1, 11th MEU, prep HIMARS for training at a joint drill near the Red Sea. (credit: 1st Lt. Austin Gallegos)