French ambassador: 'Nothing stopping' Navy cadet exchange with Israel

"Nothing is stopping us from having a Navy cadet exchange program," said Ambassador Helene Le Gal on board French Navy’s third Mistral-class amphibious vessel, FNS Dixmude, while docked at Haifa.

A French warship Dixmude at Haifa port returning from five months at sea in the Far East (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
A French warship Dixmude at Haifa port returning from five months at sea in the Far East
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
France is open to having a navy exchange program with Israel similar to the cadet exchange program the Israel Navy has with the US, France’s ambassador told The Jerusalem Post.
“There is nothing stopping us from having a joint cadet program,” Hélène Le Gal said aboard the French Navy’s third Mistral-class amphibious vessel, Dixmude, on Tuesday.
According to the ambassador, the French presence in the Mediterranean has increased since the war in Syria began in 2011, with French Navy ships docking in Israeli ports 16 times in 2016, 10 times in 2017 and already 11 times since the beginning of 2018.
“The Israeli navy is very used to the French Navy now,” Le Gal said, “We have a very high presence in the eastern Mediterranean.”
As part of its port visit, the Dixmude, which Le Gal called “20,000 tons of deterrence,” and Fayette-class guided-missile frigate Surcouf took part in joint drills with the Israel Navy on Wednesday, with Israeli ships simulating enemy vessels that the French ships must defend against.
The Dixmude, led by Capt. Jean Porcher and the frigate Surcouf, commanded by Commander Christine Ribbe, docked in Haifa Sunday as part of the French Navy’s five-month Jeanne d’Arc mission.
On board the ships are hundreds of cadets from the French Navy as well as 10 foreign officer cadets from Cameroon, Madagascar, Benin, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, Congo, Brazzaville, Gabon and Senegal. Another 10 officers from the UK, Egypt, Morroco, Senegal and Cameroon are also on board.
The ships began their Jeanne d’Arc task force mission in February 2018 and will sail back to France following their port visit in Haifa. The mission included port visits to Beirut, Djibouti, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
The Dixmude, which can carry a maximum of 1,000 sailors, docked with 450 sailors, several British Agusta Westland AW159 Wildcat maritime attack helicopters and – for the first time – a Schiebel Camcopter S-100 rotor-winged unmanned aerial vehicle, which was tested for maritime reconnaissance missions.
“France sees Israel as a strong maritime partner in the region,” said Col. Ronen Hajaj, the head of the Israel Navy’s Training and Doctrine Department in a recent telephone briefing with military reporters.
Earlier this week the IDF announced that the INS Eilat Sa’ar 5 multi-mission corvette missile boat and the INS Kidon Sa’ar 4.5-class missile boat docked in the port of Toulon on June 21. The visit by the two ships marked the first time in 55 years that Israel Navy vessels docked in a French port and participated in a drill in French waters.
The historic drill also featured a meeting between the commander of the Israel Navy, Adm. Eli Sharvit, with his French counterpart, Adm. Christophe Parzuk.
“In the current era, in which many changes are taking place, the point of view of Israel’s naval arm must be global,” Sharvit said, adding that “cooperation with Western fleets is essential and necessary in order to strengthen the security of Israel’s waters.”
The first two Israeli cadets to take part in the navy exchange program with the US completed a semester at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in June after spending 18 weeks with their American counterparts.
The exchange program, the first of its kind, also saw two American cadets spend several months training and studying alongside Israeli soldiers in the Naval Officers Course at the University of Haifa as well as getting involved in cultural and language-immersion programs.